Book Review: Court of Fives by Kate Elliott
In this imaginative escape into an enthralling new world, World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott begins a new trilogy with her debut young adult novel, weaving an epic story of a girl struggling to do what she loves in a society suffocated by rules of class and privilege.
Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But at night she can be whomever she wants when she sneaks out to train for The Fives, an intricate, multi-level athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best competitors. Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an unlikely friendship between a girl of mixed race and a Patron boy causes heads to turn. When a scheming lord tears Jes’s family apart, she’ll have to test Kal’s loyalty and risk the vengeance of a powerful clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.
A strong, female protagonist who has a passion and pursues it, check. Bonus points because the passion is interesting, challenging and combines both athleticism and intelligences. The Fives is kind of like a triathlon, except it involves 5 separate courts that involve not only physical strength and skill but on the fly problem solving that displays quick thinking and high intelligence.
A strong, female protagonist who wrestles with complicated thoughts, feelings and issues, check. Bonus points because Jessamy is sometimes wrong, admits it, and then re-adjusts as she proceeds.
A strong, female protagonist who is flawed, sometimes selfish and sometimes selfless, check. As Jessamy considers how her actions will impact others, sometimes knowingly making decisions that may negatively impact those that she loves, we see very clearly how we all have to wrestle with things like asserting self and balancing it with the needs of others, and how our actions might impact the reputation of those we love.
As the story progresses a number of Jessamy’s family members are put into a perilous position and it is Jessamy that learns the truth of the situation and comes up with a complicated plan to rescue them. Although Jessamy is aided and assisted by a bunch of people, some of who are men, she is in no way being rescued by a man but working with some men to rescue others. It was very empowering to read this adventures featuring a strong, female main character that seemed real and relatable. Even though Jessamy is clearly intelligent and thoughtful, she herself is challenged in some of her beliefs and is forced to wrestle with new information and how that informs who she will be and how she will live her life. Character development and growth for the win.
Inside the pages of this fun fantasy novel set in a world with various puzzles and games are some thoughtful discussions of class issues, women’s issues, societal structure, etc. It contains one of my favorite lines ever about the role of women and asks our main character to think about whether or not a young girl trained from birth to take on a certain role is really freely choosing that role.
Definitely recommended. I look forward to reading more of Jessamy’s adventures. This is definitely an introduction to this new world so the beginning was a bit slower and not all of the characters presented are well developed, particularly Jessamy’s sisters, but as the narrative progresses so does the world building and character development. It’s a good, solid start to a new feminist fantasy series. For more feminist fantasy read Stray by Elissa Sussman, book 1 in the Four Sisters series.
Coming in August from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. I picked up an ARC at TLA for review.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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