Whenever I start a book, I can usually tell within the first few pages whether I will like it or not. And I could tell that I was going to like, reallWhenever I start a book, I can usually tell within the first few pages whether I will like it or not. And I could tell that I was going to like, really like Tyger, Tyger from the first page. Right after I met Cindy, the possessive ape. There is a freshness to Kersten Hamilton’s prose that subsumes any initial objections the mind may bring up. The snappy dialogue and the fast pace of the story challenges the reader to plunge into the richly woven tapestry of myth and reality. Juxtaposing the complex legends and stories of Ireland with the urban-ness of Chicago works to showcase the conflict within the characters about their own warring heritages. This is a theme I am pretty sure Ms. Hamilton will expound upon in further books. The real strength of the book, for me, was in the character creation. That is, in its characters. From the not too bookish Abby (I refuse to call her ditzy, her superficiality and “dumbness” seem more like a mask than a real character trait) to the Guardian Angel who weeps for his scratched truck. Even the side characters, such as Lennie and Mrs. Santini, are individuals who are not glossed over because of their small importance to the narrative as a whole. Aiden has a distinctive voice and seems much older than he is. But it was Finn that I liked the most. At a time when variants of Austen’s Darcy make the most popular heroes, it is Finn with his sincerity and his capitulation to his feelings that wins me. I love that he is a real person who is flawed – imperfect – and as such, perfect as a hero. The only character that I had trouble with is Teagan’s. Because the characters surrounding her are such individuals, she is drowned out by their vibrance. She has so much potential and I hope that with her character is explored a bit more in the next installment to the series. The only other thing that bothered me about the book was its ending. Possibly because I didn’t want it to end – I wasn’t ready for it to end – and when it did end, it seemed abrupt. Nothing was resolved – at least not satisfactorily and while I understand that this might be because it is a part of a series, a resolution (of any kind) would make the wait for the next book a bit more bearable. I must commend the author on the research she conducted and the flawlessness with which she wove the details into her story, bringing to life a world where the impossible breathes right beside the normal....more
The synopsis does a fair job of describing the book but it doesn’t do the intricate relationships and layers at play in the novel any justice. For insThe synopsis does a fair job of describing the book but it doesn’t do the intricate relationships and layers at play in the novel any justice. For instance, the synopsis doesn’t mention that Jessamy is one of four sisters, Maraya, Bettany (Jessamy’s twin,) and Amaya, all of whom are complex individuals with their own lives and story arcs. The synopsis also doesn’t mention Jessamy’s mother who is one of the more interesting, non-antagonistic, parents in the YA genre. The synopsis most certainly doesn’t mention the incredibly complex relationship Jessamy has with her father. It does mention Kalliarkos, the inevitable love interest, but romance is at best a subplot of Court of Fives and not the entire point of it.
It is difficult to know where to begin to describe this novel but I shall start with the worldbuilding which is, as expected, detailed but not in the minute way Kate’s adult fantasy novels are. The description of the court where the fives are run, the market, the different peoples and their diverging histories are all given attention. Kate takes the time to immerse the reader into this world she has created for the story but at the same time there is the feeling that this world does not rely on the reader’s previous experience with fantastic worlds to come to life; it is whole in itself in the way it is created.
Court of Fives contains concurrent discussions on race, culture, and the systemic oppression of the natives by the people colonizing their land. The book also discusses the artificiality of written history as the past is often written by those who lack objectivity and who often shade events to show their sides of the story in the most favourable light thereby denying the losing side not just their culture and their history, but also a voice with which to make a difference. The book also has a minor discussion on physical disability as Maraya, Jess’s elder sister, has a twisted foot and is considered a defect by her father. This leads to an interesting discussion about whether a person’s worth is determined by her/his/their physical self.
Jessamy and her sisters are of mixed heritage; her father, though low-born, is a Patron while her mother is Efean. Because of their mixed heritage, Jess and her sisters have to constantly navigate their shifting identities as their selves are contextualized by the people they come in contact with. Jess is an intriguing character to unravel within the course of the narrative. Some of her choices do, initially, seem self-serving and for all that she is a protagonist, her flaws are often glaringly obvious. Her brashness is blunted by her obvious love for her sisters and her mother; I really loved the way Jessamy’s parents are portrayed in the novel. It is tempting to simply hate her father for his actions but Kate is careful to humanize him and, if not justify, then explain without excusing his choices where his family is concerned. Jessamy’s mother has the opposite narrative arc compared to her father: where Jessamy’s father begins the story with loads of power and agency which are gradually stripped away as he is reduced to being a pawn someone else’s political play, Jessamy’s mother begins the story as a cossetted wife who loses everything and is forced, both for her own sake and for the sake of her children, to gather strength and find the will to live on.
The fives, a race run in a court full of obstacles, gains significance when the true history of the Efeans comes to light during the narrative. What has filtered through time and memory to become a simple sport, an extremely lucrative one but a sport nonetheless, used to mean a very different thing to the people of the past. The book hints at this deeper connection and I reckon we’re going to return and delve into this plot point further sometime in the sequel.
Now for the romance which I will be honest and say was my least favourite part of the story.
In a conversation with Jessamy’s father about his relationship with her mother:
“Did you fall in love with her at first sight?”
“No one can fall in love at first sight. Love is built over the years, not snapped into existence like a flame that can be easily extinguished. But I was so struck with her beauty and the pure joy in her laugh that something deep within me changed…”
There is the acknowledgement that love, true love, is more than the infatuation that begins many relationships. Kal and Jess’s relationship very much reads like young love and I appreciated the distinction that this conversation makes between young love and true love.
I am not the biggest fan of Kalliarkos simply because he feels too naive for all that he is a member of the nobility. I feel like he has a lot of growing up to do before he can become a worthy love interest. I’m not too worried though because by the end of the novel, he is well on his way to learning some home truths which will serve him well in the future.
I was most worried that Jessamy would turn into a lovelorn teenager which is okay because she is a teenager and deserves her moonstruck phase but lovelorn teenagers do not make for fun reading. I was very glad, then, that the novel ended in on a most interesting note where Jess reveals that at the core of her self lies a brilliant tactician and gives a glimmer of the woman she is becoming. There was no cliffhanger as the first book, though primarily focused on establishing the world and individuating the characters, does complete a narrative arc and contains a full story that can be read as a standalone. Yay.
So now we come to the end of this fangirly review though I hope I was discerning and remained objective during it. Court of Fives is a great book and a great start to a new trilogy. Kate Elliott has created a wonderful world peopled by complex characters who are living an incredible story. Strongly recommended. (As in, read it.)...more