YA Weekend: Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Series: Book 2 of Court of Fives
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (August 16, 2016)
Length: 468 pages
I was surprised how much I enjoyed this one. Last year’s Court of Fives and I didn’t hit it off very well, despite my excitement to read Kate Elliott’s first Young Adult novel. Happily though, this sequel improves upon almost every single issue I had, and I was really glad I decided to give the series another try.
In this world, the Fives is a popular game involving an intricate obstacle course: each adversary moves through through four challenges before tackling the final moving tower puzzle, which must be successfully scaled in order to claim the victory flag at the top. Our protagonist, a young woman of mixed background named Jessamy has achieved her dream of competing in the Fives and is now a Challenger, moving up the ranks and gaining tons of fans. Sadly though, it meant saying good bye to Lord Kalliarkos, the boy she befriended and fell in love with. The young Patron prince is being sent off to war, along with Jes’ father the great General Esladas.
Jes herself is traveling the countryside on tour with her Fives team, earning the money required to support her mother and siblings in secret after helping them escape imprisonment. Her family’s enemies are still out there though, so Jes has to be extra careful not to rouse suspicion, even if it means sneaking off when she’s not supposed to. However, war threatens to unravel all her plans as her traveling party and the fighting meet on a collision path.
I think it would be simplest just to run through all the improvements I felt were made by this sequel, matching them to the criticisms I had with Court of Fives. First, the world-building: I feel like we get a much better grasp of what’s going on in Poisoned Blade. At the end of the last book, the author introduced several elements hinting at a secret history and suggesting that there’s a lot more behind the lore of the Fives. The ideas are further developed here, and we’re also starting to see a lot more connections forming.
Second, the story: maybe it’s because I never found the concept of Fives to be all that interesting, but I was so glad the story in Poisoned Blade started to move away from the game. Instead, the book’s plot focuses more on the bigger picture of what’s happening around the kingdom—war, politics, and the power struggle between all sides. All the backstabbing and conflicts within the royal family are complicated enough to make my head spin, but it makes for a much more compelling story.
Third, the characters: In Court of Fives, Jes was one of the most frustrating protagonists I had ever met. She waffled constantly, which also resulted in a very confusing picture of General Esladas, because it seemed she could never make up her mind whether she admired her father or hated his guts. In my eyes, she also played Kalliarkos mercilessly, persuading him to help her out by goading him or poking at his weak spots. Fortunately, the romance was toned down a lot in this sequel, so there were fewer awkward moments between Jes and Kal. I’ve also come to appreciate General Esladas’ character a little bit more, now that his love for his family is starting to come through and Jes has decided that he’s a good man who is just as trapped as she is.
Furthermore, there are a number of general developments that make this book a better read overall. Jes’ experience of being the daughter of a Patron man and a Commoner woman was explored a lot more, like how growing up in the middle of two worlds has affected her, especially since her heritage is clearly written on her physical features. No matter how successful she is as a Fives Challenger, people still judge her by her sex and color of her skin. Going deeper into the social and cultural issues of this world also makes it feel a lot more real and immersive. I’m interested as well in the relationships between Jes and her siblings. There are quite a few shocking twists revealed in this book when it comes to her twin, and of course there’s also the matter of her newborn baby brother—very curious about where that’s going to lead!
Bottom line, I thought Poisoned Blade was much better than the first book. I wouldn’t call it a standout read compared to some of excellent YA I’ve read, as there’s still room for improvement, but nevertheless I was pleasantly surprised how well the story drew me in considering my less-than-stellar experience with Court of Fives. Frankly I did not expect to enjoy this sequel so much, and now is it’s all but assured that I will be picking up the third book to see how this trilogy will end.
More on The BiblioSanctum
Review of Court of Fives (Book 1)