YA Weekend: Court of Fives by Kate Elliott

A review copy was provided by the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Court of FivesCourt of Fives by Kate Elliott

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Court of Fives

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (8/18/15)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars

While it’s true that I have not read many books by Kate Elliott, I still feel pretty confident when I say this is not her best. I’m disappointed because I badly, desperately wanted to like this one, but ultimately it just wasn’t for me.

First, a quick summary of the premise to set the stage for my points below. Our protagonist is a girl named Jessamy. She and her three sisters are raised in a household by their Patron father, a low-born baker’s son who nevertheless rose to fame and prestige in the military because of his talents in command, and their Commoner mother, a concubine because it is forbidden for a man of Saroese ancestry to marry a native woman of Efea. Jes’ secret dream is to train for the Fives, an athletic competition that offers a chance for glory, but due to her father’s strict rules, the only way she can compete is in secret. One day during a public event, Jes meets Kalliarkos, a young Patron prince. From a shared love of the Fives, they strike up an unlikely friendship. But when disaster strikes and a ruthless lord threatens to tear Jessamy’s family apart, Kal’s loyalty to her will be put to the test.

World-Building: Sadly, it was almost non-existent. Save for random facts about the setting, there was little to bring it all together. This is Kate Elliott’s first Young Adult novel and I don’t know if it’s because she felt the need to water down the particulars, but I’ve always been a big believer that just because it’s YA doesn’t mean you have to skimp on the details; readers are patient and if you want to take some time establishing a bit of background information, I doubt anyone’s going to throw the book down in a fit of rage just because of a little break in the action.

Story: Way too many holes for my tastes. There were many things that didn’t sit right with me. My biggest problem was the villain’s main motivation to separate Jessamy’s father from his family. Even if I buy the explanation, I don’t understand why he would go to all the trouble with his layer upon layer of schemes. Really, it’d make a lot more sense for him to simply kill everyone and be done with it, especially since we’ve already established that he’s the kind of man who would do something like that and not lose a wink of sleep. As far as I could tell, the only reason he did what he did was so there would be a story.

Main Character: Jessamy is one of the most confusing YA heroines I’ve ever met. One moment she’s convinced me that she desperately wants to take some action, or feels strongly about something. And just as suddenly she’ll do a complete one-eighty and say the opposite. Her desire to run the Fives is a prime example. We spend the first few chapters reading about how badly she wants to take part in the coming games, how she’d do anything to sneak out and compete. But of course when the moment finally comes, she gets cold feet. No, Jes, that’s not what I want to hear at all. You want me convinced of your love for the game? Then OWN IT. No flip-flopping. But more flip-flopping is exactly what she does, this time on the matter of her father. Does she hate him for being an ambitious cad who threw away his family to get ahead in life, or does she love him for being forced against his will to make a bad decision that will nonetheless save all their lives? Jes seems to change her mind on this every other chapter.

Romance: Besides having no chemistry, I’m not sure Jes and Kal’s “romance” is even altogether healthy. He’s got a complex where he’s desperate for the approval of those around him, bending over backwards for people so that they would like him, praise him, accept him. She knows this, and takes advantage of it every chance she gets, goading him into breaking the rules and taking risks for her by sneering at his skills and challenging his manhood. There was also no build up to their relationship; it’s just something that randomly happens.

The Fives: This game is bizarre and confusing, a glorified obstacle course where each adversary must progress through a set of four challenges before tackling the final puzzle, a moving contraption called Rings which the player must scale successfully to claim the victory flag and declare triumph. There’s no need for a lot of strategizing or direct contact between players, so each adversary works independently for the most part, which doesn’t make for much entertainment or suspense. I give the game credit for being a cool idea, but it doesn’t feel complete or fully realized.

It’s a shame, because this novel isn’t without its strengths and I can actually name a few areas where the story really shines. However, most of the positives are overshadowed by the negatives. There are several missed opportunities to further explore the implications of Jessamy being a woman of mixed-race straddling two worlds, raised in the tradition of one culture while physically resembling the people of the other. There’s also the difference in women’s status in the two societies, which gets mentioned a lot by characters in the story, but there’s not much more beyond that. These are important issues that could have made the world-building feel more vivid and robust, but regrettably, we are only given very surface-level details.

I wish I could have given Kate Elliott’s Young Adult debut a more glowing review, but the truth is Court of Fives ended up falling short of my expectations. Understandably, the rivers of YA are difficult to navigate, and hopefully the next book will stand on sturdier ground. Fortunately though, Elliott has written plenty of great books in her distinguished career, and if you want to check out her work I would recommend Cold Magic, the first book of her Spiritwalker trilogy, which also stars a strong young woman but it’s a much richer, more powerful coming-of-age tale than this one.

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36 Comments on “YA Weekend: Court of Fives by Kate Elliott

    • Not necessarily! I set a pretty high bar for YA and while this didn’t work for me, I am probably in the minority from what I’ve seen so far. This may very well be awesome for you 🙂

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  1. 😦 That’s disappointing to hear / read. I was thinking about checking out Court Of Fives, but now I’m not so sure. Especially if you say that Cold Magic and Elliott’s Spiritwalker series is much stronger than this one. Do you think that’s a good place for Kate Elliott newbies to start?

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    • I thought was Cold Magic was pretty decent. Her Crossroads trilogy gets a lot of love too (but I haven’t read that one) so I would say maybe consider starting with that too (and let me know how it is, lol. It’s been on my TBR for a while) 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ugh, that’s the worst; thinking that the book will be kick axx, but isn’t. I don’t like plot holes and wayward heroines. Sorry this wasn’t what you expected. I do believe this is on my TBR/wish list.

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    • Could be! I doubt she’s the first author whose adult titles I find awesome but whose first venture into YA is a bit shaky. And I admit my bar for YA has been raised ever since Ink and Bone 😛

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  3. I saw your rating on GR and I was shocked, but given the points you make in your review it makes sense. This was a highly anticipated book for me, but now I’m feeling wary because characters, world building, and romance (if it’s included) are not things that I can handle when they’re done sloppily. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this one more!

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    • It honestly killed me to give the rating. But I gotta go with my gut on this. I wasn’t happy with the protagonist or the romance, and I think the story could have used more polish.

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  4. Wow, hate to hear it didn’t work for you. Most YA isn’t on my radar, but I had actually heard about this one and thought about picking it up. Probably won’t hurry to do that now.

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    • I’m not as clued in to the YA scene as much as I’d like to be, but this was actually one of the handful on my watchlist. Ah well. Kate Elliott’s next release Black Wolves (an adult title) is on my to-read list for this fall though, so I’m looking forward to that now 🙂

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  5. Man! I just bought Court of Fives. Thanks for writing a honest review. I’ll still read it since I bought it, but at least I have been warned!

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    • Depends if you’re curious about her YA. This didn’t work for me, but I’l still looking forward to her Black Wolves coming out this fall!

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    • It did feel like Elliott was trying to hit a lot of the YA tropes with this one. Unfortunately, they were the kind of tropes that don’t fly too well with me. :\

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    • Do pick this up if the story sounds appealing to you! 🙂 I think overall this could have used more polish, but some parts were indeed fun 🙂

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    • The story is very simplistic. I hate to generalize, but this is how I feel about a lot of YA. It’s usually not a problem, since I love reading the genre precisely because sometimes I just need something light and fun. But it also has to be the whole package.

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  6. I was really looking forward to this one, but I trust your judgement and I will be approaching with caution. That romance alone sounds like it’ll frustrate me. But I hate a wasted premise that gets undone by poor worldbuilding. Also, why are there so many Games-to-the-Death type scenario in YA – it’s ridiculous haha.

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    • It’s an overdone theme in YA, I agree. To this book’s credit though, the game of Fives isn’t technically to the death, though it can indeed be a dangerous deadly game 🙂

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  7. This was on my list for August and I was hoping to read it, but it sounds disappointing. I think I’ll read a different Kate Elliott instead.

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    • Maybe try one of her adult series? I’ve been meaning to read her Crossroads and I’m also looking forward to her Black Wolves novel coming out in November. From the sound of the description, I think it’ll work a lot better for me!

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  8. I’m now glad I passed on this one. I think the trick to writing for young adult isn’t to consciously write for a younger crowd, then it comes off dumbed down.

    I would’ve expected lots of world building by that summary. A bad romance too? No thanks.

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    • “I think the trick to writing for young adult isn’t to consciously write for a younger crowd” – This. Can’t agree more! All my favorite “YA” novels tend to be those that can be considered cross-genred/wide audience appeal.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Yikes! This sounds like it’s pretty much action-packed with issues o.O I feel like I’ll be annoyed by all of these just as you were too^^ I was mildly excited for this one mostly because I fell into the hype for it at BEA. I know next to nothing about it and I’ve never read anything from the author before. Now that I’ve read your review, I’m in no big rush to dive in! Thanks for sharing your thoughts though 🙂 xx

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    • You’re welcome. I know I’m pretty picky about my YA though so there are things I had a problem with that for others won’t be a big deal at all. I hope that when you do read it you’ll have a good time 🙂

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  10. I confess that this wasn’t on my radar (I live under a rock) but given your review and the fact that I think we have pretty similar taste, I don’t think I’ll be rushing out for a copy!
    I completely agree with your point about YA – it’s the one thing I get a bit frustrated about – lack of attention to detail. Just because the book is aimed at a younger audience doesn’t mean it has to lack a certain attention to detail – or not even really attention to detail, but coherency and fleshed out, believable characters.
    Lynn 😀

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    • Yep, so many YA novels lose points with me because there aren’t strong attempts to try and make it believable or the premise more convincing. It was my main issue with the Divergent trilogy and many more others.

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  11. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves and Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  12. Pingback: YA Weekend: Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott | The BiblioSanctum

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