Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Court of Fives - Kate Elliot

Title: The Court of Fives
Author: Kate Elliot
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2015 (Hardcover)
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: September 14, 2015
Finished: September 20, 2015

From the inside cover:

On the Fives Court, everyone is equal. And everyone is equally dangerous.

Jessamy's life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family, she can be whomever she wants when she sneaks out to train for the Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom's best contenders.

Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an improbable friendship between the two Fives competitors - one of mixed race and the other a Patron boy - causes heads to turn. When Kal's powerful, scheming uncle tears Jes' family apart, she'll have to test her new friend's loyalty and risk the vengeance of a royal clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.

In this imaginative escape from enthralling new lands, World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliot's first young adult novel weaves an epic story of a girl struggling to do what she loves in a society suffocated by rules of class and privilege.

This book had a lot of hype surrounding it, so I decided to pick it up. Unfortunately it didn't quite deliver, despite some promising areas.

Jessamy lives in two worlds yet belongs in neither. Her father is a Patron, an upper class man of Saroese background who is an army commander. Her mother is a Commoner, an Efean. Inter-class marriages are forbidden in Saryenia so her parents aren't married, but her father admiringly takes care of his "wife" and  four daughters (Jes, Maraya, Amaya, and Bettany), even though he would be well within his rights to have sent them to the Temple when they were born to be sequestered away for life. Since her father is actually a relatively decent man,  when he is invited to watch the Fives compete after a military victory, he wishes to take his "wife" and daughters along to show that he isn't ashamed of them. Jessamy, her mother, and her sisters all need to be well-behaved on the best of occasions since they are the product of an illicit affair frowned upon by polite society, and must not do anything to draw undue attention to their family. And Jes does just that.

The Fives is kind of like an all terrain obstacle course and race in one, where all the participants are masked. Jes is obsessed with the Fives and actually trains to compete in secret while her father is away. She had planned to compete for the first time in the very event her father is taking them all to. Knowing she cannot even win since winners must remove their masks, revealing her identity for all the Patrons to see, Jes still decides to run the Fives with the help of her sisters. When she competes with Prince Kalliarkos and lets him win, she attracts his interest. With Kal comes his uncle Gargaron, who when he uncovers Jes' identity, uses his influence to ruin her family when Jes' father's sponsor dies and the family is left vulnerable. Gargaron demands Jes run the Fives for him to try to profit from her skill while forcing her father to marry his niece and sending her pregnant mother and sisters to be sealed underground with the Oracle. Jes must rescue her mother and sisters with Kal's help and perform well in the Fives or else Gargaron will sell her to recoup his costs.

The setup for this novel was quite interesting: the class structure was intriguing and provided a unique set of conflicts. I couldn't quite get behind Jes' motivation however. Sure she has a relatively easy existence living with the comfort of a Patron without quite being accepted by them, and yeah I get that would be difficult, but to be willing to risk everyone's comfortable life just to run a race she can't even actually win? That's just dumb. Jes and Kal's relationship has no real build-up, there's the initial attraction when they compete and train, then he helps rescue her mom and sisters and then bam, insta-love. And I don't quite get Gargaron's motives behind breaking up Jes' family, he has the resources to just kill everyone with no accountability yet he has this layered scheme going on. I'm hoping all these issues will just be resolved upon reading the next book (this is the first in a trilogy/series, not sure yet).

Good premise but not executed as well as I had hoped.

Thoughts on the cover:
Interesting design but can't quite see the connection, could be random but it's pretty nonetheless.

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