YA Weekend: The Reader by Traci Chee

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

The ReaderThe Reader by Traci Chee

Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Book 1 of Sea of Ink and Gold

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (September 13, 2016)

Length: 448 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I was totally blown away by The Reader. Yes, I’d wanted to check it out after learning that it was a “book about books”, but what I got was simply far beyond anything I expected or imagined. There’s honestly nothing I love more than being surprised when it comes to YA, and this book dazzled me in all the ways that counted, drawing me in with fantastic writing, compelling characters, and a wildly imaginative story.

The Reader introduces us to Sefia, a young girl traveling with her Aunt Nin through the wilderness of Kelanna. The two of them have been on the run for years, after the brutal murder of Sefia’s father at the hands of a mysterious group of assassins. They’ve survived so far by living off the land, hunting for meat and furs, trading at towns, and just plain stealing. That is, until one day Sefia makes a mistake, and attracts the attention of the guard. This also alerts the assassins who have been hunting them, and as a result, Aunt Nin is captured and taken away.

For the next few years, Sefia tries to track down her aunt, using the only clue available to her—an odd, rectangular object that her father left to her after he died. Somehow, Sefia knows that this thing is the reason why she and Nin had been targeted. Later, our protagonist learns that this strange object is called a book, and struggles to remember the lessons that her parents had taught her when she was little. In a world where the written word means magic, and magic means power, there are those whose best interest lies in keeping society illiterate. But through painstaking effort, Sefia is able to piece together the mysteries of her past and begin comprehending the writing in the book, reading the stories within.

I’m reluctant to reveal much more of the story, since a lot of my enjoyment came from the surprise. The plot will seem disjointed at first, leaping from place to place, time to time, but rest assured everything will come together in the end. Still, even when I found the first half of this book difficult to understand, there was plenty to keep me hooked. The flow of the narrative was just so smooth and natural that even as we jumped around, I never felt like I was in over my head. The Reader is like a puzzle, and the book gradually doles out the clues until we can see how all the pieces fit together. Like I said, there are many original ideas in here, including the very way this story is told—like using creative structure, or presenting the text in clever ways. I have to say the art direction for this novel is extremely well done.

The characters are also wonderful, and their relationships are genuinely interesting. At an early point in her journey, Sefia rescues a young man from his captors. He is unable to speak and therefore he can’t tell Sefia anything about himself, so she ends up calling him Archer. A sweet friendship develops between the two as they travel together, which eventually blossoms into something more. Slow-burn romances are always my favorite, and Sefia and Archer’s really made sense to me. Because Archer can’t talk, they have to communicate in other ways, and to me that also made their interactions more meaningful. Furthermore, there’s a significant part of this book that takes place on the high seas, and as you know, I love myself some maritime fantasy. This story seems to encompass a whole lot—pirates, assassins, magic, and more—but everything ties perfectly together by its conclusion.

I also loved Traci Chee’s writing. It’s rich with description but very clean at the same time, without the flowery prose I often see in YA debuts. She really has a way with words, bringing the magic and epic adventure to life. What I enjoyed most about The Reader was that I often couldn’t predict where it was going. In a genre that is often filled with clichés and the recycling of old tropes, I can’t tell you what a breath of fresh air this was to me. Even if I hadn’t loved this book, I think I’d be hard-pressed to find much fault with the author’s writing or her unique vision.

I’m often wary about books with lots of hype, but in this case I felt the excitement and praise was well deserved. The Reader might just be my favorite YA read of the year.

5stars

Mogsy 2

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30 Comments on “YA Weekend: The Reader by Traci Chee

    • It was fantastic! I think the beginning of the book will be problematic for some, because of how long it takes for everything to come together – but when it does, the story really shines.

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  1. I just finished this one last night and will have to get to my review tomorrow. It was a strong 4/5 read for me. I agree, I love the relationship between Archer and Sefia. It wasn’t rushed and I feel like a true friendship developed before anything else was hinted at. My only complaint is that it did take a while for it all to connect together, but the ending was well worth it. Now we just have to wait forever for the next one.

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    • I agree with your review – it did take some time for the story to come together, but I liked how it fit together in the end. And the wonderful writing was what pushed me over to give this one the full five stars, I just loved it.

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  2. I have heard so many good things about this that I recommended my library acquire it. If I was the first to recommend it, then I should get it soon after release date. *crosses fingers*

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    • Crossing my fingers for you too! I think it’s great that your library handles recommendations like that. I also picked this up based on all the good reviews I’d seen, and I was glad it didn’t disappoint.

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  3. EEEE a 5 star review from Mogsy! (I think I say that every time I see one, lol) I have this book and now it’s moved closer to the top of the pile, since I completely trust your judgement when it comes to YA.

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    • Yeah, I can’t remember the last time I five starred a YA. It really is quite rare. I really enjoyed this one though, it’s quite different from other YA I’ve read, hopefully it’ll work for you too.

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    • Yay! I hope hope hope hope hope with all my heart it will work for you! Like I said, it’s different, which is the only reason I hesitate to recommend it to just anyone, but I do think there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this. Crossing my fingers 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I want this now. I think I saw it on NG but it was US only so thought I’d wait and see if it did eventually come over to UK. I’ll take a look on Amazon.
    Thanks for this review!
    Lynn 😀

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  5. High praise indeed^^, especially for a YA read. I’m always reluctant when adding new YA titles because so much of them fizzle out into letdowns…SO I was hesitant to even add this one but after reading your review…I KNOW that this one is a must-read 😀 YAY!

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    • I was hesitant to check this out too, but well, I can ever resist books about books! It did turn out quite different than I expected, but I think that was why I enjoyed it so much 🙂

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  6. This sounds fantastic. If it’s your favourite YA of the year, that’s really something to watch for. I’ll keep it in mind for when I need a more challenging read than the fluffy romances I’m currently enjoying now! 🙂

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    • Hope you get a chance to check this one out, because I would be very curious to hear what you think! I’m always nervous about recommending YA, sometimes the stuff I like is very different from “the norm” but I think that’s why this one worked for me so well.

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

  8. Both this and the Arabella of Mars story sound interesting. I might give them a try. Kinda leaning more to Arabella because I love that “girl disguised as guy” trope too.

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