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An instant New York Times Bestseller, this is a stunning debut set in a world where reading is unheard-of. Perfect for fans of Inkheart and Shadow and Bone

Finalist for the Kirkus Prize and nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award!

Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible.

442 pages, Hardcover

First published September 13, 2016

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About the author

Traci Chee

14 books1,332 followers
Traci Chee is a New York Times best-selling author and National Book Award Finalist. An all-around word geek, she loves book arts and art books, poetry and paper crafts, though she also dabbles at bonsai gardening, egg painting, and hosting potluck game nights for family and friends. She studied literature and creative writing at UC Santa Cruz and earned a master of arts degree from San Francisco State University. Traci grew up in a small town with more cows than people, and now feels most at home in the mountains, scaling switchbacks and happening upon hidden highland lakes. She lives in California with her fast-fast dog.

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5 stars
3,299 (27%)
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3 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,323 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,990 reviews298k followers
February 15, 2019
This is a book. You are the reader. Look closer. There’s magic here.

I really struggled with this one. Despite exciting little quotes - like the one above - to draw in any self-proclaimed bibliophile, something about this book just felt off from the very start.

I mean, it's slow. But that on its own is not necessarily a problem. Fantasy is often the kind of genre that can get away with having a slower, more drawn-out and intricate plot. No, it's more that I think the premise is fundamentally flawed and I just could not get past it. It must be me, though, because I have only seen one other reviewer comment on the issues I had.

The Reader is supposed to be about a society where reading doesn't exist. Reading is, as the blurb states, "unheard of". But when Sefia's aunt Nin is kidnapped, the only clue to what is going on is "The Book" that her father left behind before he was murdered. So Sefia sets about deciphering the book, and searching for her aunt with the help of a mute boy called Archer.

Firstly, though, it's simply not true that these people don't read. They do. Just think about what it would really mean to have a society that didn't read at all. Communicating through visual symbols is one of humanity's oldest behaviours - if you have a language and you can physically create art, it makes sense that people would create visual representation of words/things. And, as it happens, this society does just that. Symbols (e.g. an anvil or cleaver) appear above shops in the first chapter. Yeah, this is not the English/Latin Alphabet, but it is reading.

What this book seems to mean when it says that people don't read is that they don't read the English Latin alphabet, a descendant of the Greek alphabet. For a book that is so culturally and racially diverse, it's disappointing to see reading defined in such narrow parameters.

Secondly - and I am so confused by this that I genuinely wonder if I somehow missed an explanation - how does a girl who has grown up in a society where reading doesn't exist simply look at a book and teach herself to read? How can she possibly see a picture of the letter "B" and know it makes a "buh" sound? I'm not being rhetorical - did I miss an explanation of how this is possible? How many non-Japanese speakers can look at this か and instantly be sounding out a "ka" sound?*

Also, as I mentioned above, a society that doesn't read would mean a VERY different kind of world - imagine the possibilities and what it would mean for this fictional version of humanity - and yet very little is done with it. The world itself is standard fantasy, with a heroine who could be any other YA fantasy heroine, and the usual combination of assassins, thieves, pirates and romance. I can't name a single interesting thing about Sefia to set her apart from the rest.

Another thing - people are getting really excited about the promise of pirates. Fair enough. But I'm starting to realize that I maybe don't love pirates as much as I think I do. I seem to conjure up an image of the old-fashioned, alcoholic "Yo Ho" Jack Sparrow kind of pirates. Truth is, that's just romanticism, and they're actually just a bunch of rebellious sailors. "Sailors" probably sells fewer books than "pirates", though.

So, as well as the fundamental flaws with the concept, I didn't connect with any of the characters, I found it so slow (lots of stories within the story, which quickly became boring) and one of the big reveals feels like a rip-off of

Also - and it pains me to say this - the obsession with "The Book" here is, frankly, a little weird. And yes, I freaking love books, but it's so crazy intense it's borderline comical. Like maybe you'll get it if you're the kind of person who sits alone in a dark room, stroking your books. I'm almost that insane, but not quite :)

*Okay, I knew I must have missed something. I guess the book briefly mentions her parents sounding out the letters on her toy blocks when she was young. I'm still skeptical of her ability to suddenly turn this into actual reading, but at least her reading skills didn't just appear from nowhere.

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Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,535 reviews9,939 followers
November 21, 2017
Re-read on audio so I can read second book!

So, wow - how do I write this review?! ← I tend to ask that a lot. Anyhoo . . .

So this world of Kelanna doesn't have books! What? Who are these people? There is a whole story thing about it, but I got a little confused so don't ask me.

A what? What's a book? Or as someone asked in this story, "What's a buck?"

Sefia has been on the run with her aunt Nin for quite some time. There are people looking for Nin because she's the most notorious thief in the Five Islands, they call her the Locksmith. But . . . there are other reasons she is hunted.

Sefia's mom was killed years ago and then her dad was killed and they had this set up what Sefia was to do if that happened. I feel really bad for Sefia seeing her father dead because the people in this book do some nasty killings.

Sefia took something she found hidden in their home when she made her escape to her aunt Nin. What was that something? A Book! A what?

Later on Nin gets caught by said people looking for her and Sefia has to fend for herself for a few years while hunting these people and hoping to find her aunt still alive and get revenge for her parents. I really like Sefia's character.

One day she is looking at the book. The what? Sorry, I can't help myself. She does something or other and she begins to read. Well, her dad taught her a little about reading back in the day but when she reads, something magical happens.

The book is magical! All books are magical in my world, but I digress. This book actually does something to Sefia and she ends up with some powers but I can't tell you what they are, read the book. The what?


One day in the woods, where Sefia has been living, there are some jerk holes that come along. Sefia is watching them from a tree. They have a crate with them that has holes in it with the sign of the book that Sefia has and she thinks it might be Nin. But when she goes later when they are sleeping to open the crate, it's a boy inside and not Nin.

Sefia saves the boy, he is scrawny and has many scars. She knows he is used in fighting and killing. He ends up staying with her, he can't talk, she teaches him things, she reads to him, she names him Archer, he's deadly, they save each other, they take out others, they are both wonderful, wonderful characters.

The end.

No, just kidding. Seriously, Sefia and Archer go through a lot together to get to Nin and they eventually do and revelations, revelations, revelations!!

And the book is a book within a book. Figure that one out =)

Happy Reading!

Mel ❤️

MY BLOG: Melissa Martin's Reading List
Profile Image for Sandra.
378 reviews16 followers
Want to read
September 18, 2015
"...set in a world where reading is forbidden."

That's scary. I WANT THIS BOOK.
Profile Image for Renée Ahdieh.
Author 24 books17.4k followers
May 25, 2015
this book is utterly fantastic. it has it all--an amazing heroine with an intricate backstory, a gorgeously rendered fantasy landscape, diverse characters, and beautiful prose.

did i mention it has SWASHBUCKLERS and SHARPSHOOTERS?

you need this book in your life. trust me.
Profile Image for Laura.
425 reviews1,253 followers
September 6, 2016
Because in Kelanna, if they didn’t keep telling your story after you died, you might as well have never lived at all.

The Reader is a pleasant surprise. I hadn’t heard much other than that it’s a book about a book and there’s a heap load of adventure involved. Somehow that’s understating things.. yes, it’s a book about reading, though it’s set in a world where people can’t read. And there’s pirates, magic, assassins, librarians, secret societies, and an epic story to tie it all together.

We are mainly with Sefia, the reader, throughout the story (written in third person). There are a few times the POV shifts to other characters - it all makes sense how they connect in the end. Sefia has been on the run for the last six years since her father was brutally murdered. She doesn’t know who she is running from, but she knows what they want. That mysterious object of her fathers that she has possession of. It is a book. They will stop at nothing to get it. Sefia wants vengeance. And among Sefia’s story are stories of all the things I mentioned above.
But books are curious objects. They have the power to trap, transport, and even transform you if you are lucky. But in the end, books - even magic ones - are only objects pieced together from paper and glue and thread. That was the fundamental truth the readers forgot. How vulnerable the book really was.

It’s really quite genius the way the stories are intertwined throughout the plot. We read short stories as Sefia reads them in the book. They’re all deeply connected showing just how complex the book is as a whole. It’s something to be admired. And it’s nearly impossible not to feel invested. One of my favorite things are the beautiful quotes about reading, leaving stories after you die, and books in general. There is so much meaning in these words. The writing is truly brilliant.

The physicality of the book adds a little something to the table with markings on several pages such as smudges, finger-prints, burned or ripped pages, etc. There are also hidden words throughout making up a fun message by the end. This was definitely an outstanding debut, let alone start to a series. I cannot wait to see where the story goes next.
In a world where the only evidence of your existence was a body subject to decay and the works you left behind when the body was gone, you tried all manner of things to convince yourself that your life had some meaning, some permanence. But one day, even his tattoos would rot away - images of horned whales, beautiful women, disappearing islands - and nothing would be left of him but the whispered legends of the things he’d done.
Profile Image for Victoria Resco.
Author 7 books25.6k followers
March 26, 2021

Este libro puede pasarme por encima con un camión y le agradecería.
Profile Image for Whitney Atkinson.
940 reviews14k followers
September 5, 2016

This book was super promising, and I'm sure a lot of people will like it, but I'm not a fan of books about pirates, and I didn't know that's what this would be about! I liked the writing and plot of this, but I just got really wildly bored. If I hadn't combined the audiobook with some skim-reading, I definitely might have DNF'ed this. Sefia just seemed like a very basic and interchangeable main character, and the rest of the characters were pirates or mysterious/confusing/muddled-backstory characters that I didn't get connected to, so in the end, there was nothing for me really to grasp onto for it to keep my attention.

The one really cool thing about this, though, is that it's sorta like illuminae with little hidden messages in the book and pictures and smudges and censored paragraphs, which I thought was awesome!
Profile Image for Wendy Darling.
1,631 reviews34k followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
September 27, 2016
Mr.Darling overhears a lot of audiobooks that I listen to. This is the only instance in which he finally said, after two days, "So this book you're listening to is pretty terrible."

So....while I don't think it's terrible, exactly, I've listened to ten chapters feeling puzzled and somewhat bored. And occasionally annoyed, because "This is a book, this is a book, this is a book" gets repeated a lot in reverential tones. And look, I LOVE books; my house is crammed full of them, not only review ARCs, but books I buy literally every week. But the fixation on books here seems to be pretty simplistic, without any real depth of feeling and appreciation that I could connect to. It's a bit like when you read a YA book and the author insists on proclaiming over and over how "bookish" the heroine is without showing you any evidence of it.

All the other noise around the story didn't really interest me either, and don't get me started on how easily Sefia teaches herself to read in a world where books are forbidden.

I'm flummoxed by the high ratings I'm seeing--am I missing something spectacular at the end? :/ But #1 NYT bestseller for a debut its first week, so what the hell do I know.

Audio notes: will come back and add the narrator's name later, but I thought her youthful voice and not-too-excitable style was just fine to listen to.

Leaving this unrated for now until I figure out if I've read enough to comfortably do so, my usual mark being around 100 pages.
Profile Image for Kassidy.
340 reviews11k followers
January 18, 2017
This is a complex, magical story of a girl's journey to find answers. I loved how it weaved multiple storylines and POVs together and how they all intertwined in the end. However, I don't think audiobook format is the best way to read this book. I would often get confused because it wasn't totally clear in the audiobook when storylines/POVs switched. I would recommend having the physical book on hand to read along with or look through.

Check out my full review on my blog: http://www.kassidyvoinche.com/2017/01...
Profile Image for Rosalyn Eves.
Author 9 books665 followers
March 31, 2016
I was lucky enough to read an early draft of this novel. It's truly lovely: rich prose, a vivid setting, characters you want to cheer for (and others you love to hate), and a fast-paced plot.

Profile Image for Tara Sim.
Author 18 books1,251 followers
December 1, 2015
Between the restless waves of the sea and the leafy ferns of the jungle, you'll (willingly) get lost in this beautiful book about stories, family, bravery, and love. As Sefia journeys and discovers new stories, as well as new dangers, you'll fall in love with the cast of characters and the sprawling world of Kelanna. And if you're anything like me, it'll keep you up late into the night just to find out what happens next. This is a book you do not want to miss.
Profile Image for Eilonwy.
824 reviews207 followers
December 3, 2016

I HATE writing reviews for books I really love or admire. Not-so-good books -- sure, picking out what I disliked is easy. But sometimes it's really hard to quantify just what was so great about a book, especially without spoiling it. So forgive me if this review seems a little scattered.

This book was amazing.

It starts out seeming like a typical fantasy, as main character Sefia is set on the run with an object her enemies will do anything to get their hands on. She's already lost her parents on account of it, and as the story opens, she loses her one friend and guardian, as well. Sefia also seems to live in a fairly standard fantasyland, albeit one with jungles and a somewhat Pacific-island feel rather than a European-type setting.

But then Sefia discovers that the precious object is a book. A book -- in a country where such a thing is completely unheard of. Literacy -- reading and writing -- don't exist. People communicate via messengers and oral history. Merchants have illustrated signs, such as The Black Boar, or The Crossbars. Sefia teaches herself to read, and discovers that the book is full of stories. The stories don't seem worth killing anyone over. But her parents died to protect the Book, and so she keeps reading. After she rescues a boy who was forced into fighting death-matches so traumatizing he's lost his ability to speak, she reads aloud to him. Together, they enjoy tales of Captain Reed and his crew, swashbuckling explorers of the seas around the islands that make up the nation of Kelanna.

And together, they continue to run, not just from Sefia's enemies, but from people who want to put Archer back in the fighting arenas. And they run into plot twists that took me by surprise and with delight at every completely unexpected turn.

I am awash in admiration for Traci Chee for writing this book. The worldbuilding is incredible, and yet this first installment seems to barely scratch the surface of what's to be discovered in Kelanna. There's just so much depth. Likewise the mythology, which mixes magic and sword-fighting with guns and even some electricity. The plotting is tightly woven, with no holes that I noticed. The pacing is great, as I could hardly stand to put the book down, and flew through it. It's dark and sad, but those are things I tend to like, and the tone and atmosphere match. It's also a bit violent, but not too graphically. I really love the relationship between Sefia and Archer -- it's a love story-friendship, beautiful and touching, but it's not romance-y at all. If you avoid YA books because you hate obsessive romances, try this one!

I saw this book at my library, thought "That sounds like something I'd like," and looked it up here -- where I discovered that Lola had recommended it to me! So great call, Lola! Read Lola’s review here

Now, stop reading this review and go read this book. Seriously.
Profile Image for Giselle.
1,057 reviews907 followers
October 17, 2016
Wonderful exquisite writing! You don't have much to go on.. Because reading this was like being left in the dark. And some books don't transition between being able to grasp your attention. Thankfully this isn't that type of book because I was invested whole-heartedly. This was such a major journey for our main character and I was there along with her. Some questions are answered by the end, but I needed and wanted so much more. Especially how the Book came to be. Why are these people so special? What is the purpose of the Book? Or the Guard? Or even the Assassin??

Sefia trying to grasp the knowledge that was found in the Book made my heart jump for joy. Reading through a character's eyes, and having her learn how to read was a great experience. I can't imagine a world without books, and I really liked how the author tackled this one. There was also a lot of swashbuckling with a group of pirates that I liked. At first you'll be awfully confused because there are sub-plots and plethora of characters, but they're mentioned so frequently that you don't seem to forget them. There is also a slow-burn romance which I loved. At first, I was liking the fact that they didn't fall madly in love, and then it just changed because of what they experienced. Archer just seemed like a wonderful match for Sefia. I too enjoyed the characters and their magical powers because what was being said and what was being done confused me to no end. There's a lot of world building questions so I'm hoping there's going to be a second book with the answers.

I am loving the diverse POCs and even this cover, but did they really have to use a computer animated render instead of a model? Or is having a photo of a POC model on a book's cover too much to ask? She looks too Photoshopped and it doesn't seem to stand out. I've been really ripping apart books with white washed covers or lack of diverse representation, so I am sorry if I'm just being a little too critical.

Overall, I enjoyed "The Reader", and as far as pirate action adventures go, this one was a great read!



If they're important as I think they are, everything is relevant.

There's enough death in this world. I want to help things grow.

Sometimes you get what you want. And sometimes you wished you hadn't.

Control your future, or let your future control you.

Maybe I could make a difference before my time ran out. Maybe I'd matter.

What you do makes you who you are.

What I mean is, we're free. We choose what we want to do and who we want to be. Sometimes you gotta fight hard for it, but it's worth it, to choose for yourself.

Sometimes you find things and you wish you hadn't. Sometimes you wish they'd stayed lost.
Profile Image for Alyssa.
1,069 reviews842 followers
August 30, 2016
***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog***

The Reader by Traci Chee
Book One of the Sea of Ink and Gold series
Publisher: Putnam
Publication Date: September 13, 2016
Rating: 4 stars
Source: eARC from First to Read

Summary (from Goodreads):

Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible.

What I Liked:

What a fascinating debut novel! This book was fun and entertaining, but not in a light way. There is plenty of bloodshed and violence, but also adventures and magic and pirates! In a tangential way, this book reminded me of another YA '16 debut, Rebel of the Sands. Completely different stories, but the feel of the stories (the tone?) are similar, and wonderful.

In this fantasy world, people no longer have the ability to read. Books have been forgotten and lost. Sefia's parents had one book hidden, and Sefia didn't know what it was. Both of her parents are dead, and she's with her Aunt Nin. But when Nin is captured, Sefia takes the book and goes after them. Months pass, and no luck. Sefia was well-taught by Nin to survive, but Sefia has no direction. The only thing that can help her is the book, which Sefia slowly begins to understand. But will the book help her figure out where Nin was taken, and more about her parents?

This book is written in third-person limited, and I loved that. Certain chapters are from Sefia's POV (most of them), but also Archer's (Sefia's companion whom she rescues/frees during her hunt for Nin), Tanin's (you could say she's the villain), Lon's (an Apprentice to becoming a secret Librarian), and Reed (pirate captain of the Current of Faith). At first, the POV switches threw me, even though all were in third person. But I really came to enjoy all of the POVs, especially when I finally began to understand how they connected with each other.

I loved the writing in general! I think that's one thing that you'll see reviewers say over and over - the writing of this book is brilliant. There is almost a lyrical quality to it. There were a few lines that made me roll my eyes, because they seemed out of place compared to the rest of the paragraph. BUT, for the vast majority of the book, the writing was amazing.

Another technical aspect of this book that I really liked was the physical marks of the book - there are finger smudges, ripped/burnt pages, words in the margin, and so on. It was pretty cool! I was reading an eARC, but I've heard that the ARC (and I'm sure the final hardcover copy) has these purposeful marks in it as well. So neat!

I liked Sefia a lot. You can clearly see her growth from start to finish. She's a little scared and unsure of herself in the beginning, but she gains confidence and capability as the story goes on. She's kind and intelligent, and she is pretty handy with knives or a bow and arrow.

Archer is the boy that Sefia frees, fairly early on. He has been trained to kill all his life, and he had been dragged in a crate when Sefia saw him in the forest. She freed him, they escaped, and they were inseparable for the whole story. Archer has such a heartbreaking past, present, and future. He's a complex boy, and I liked seeing him and Sefia work together. Both of them have trauma in their pasts, and they both needed the companionship.

In terms of plot and story, this story follows Sefia and Archer trying to find Nin, as well as Captain Reed trying to find a certain treasure, and Tanin following Sefia and Archer. Lon is another important character, and his role is cleverly written. All paths merge around the halfway point in the book, and it's pretty cool how the author does that. Things get complicated as Sefia and Archer flee one enemy after the other.

Did I mention pirates? Captain Reed is somewhat of a pirate, though he's not really the plundering type. He's really more of just a captain, but he goes after treasure, so we can call him a pirate. He strikes a deal with another pirate. Yay for pirates!

There is a hint of subtle romance in this book, if you didn't pick up on that in this review! Sefia and Archer are fairly platonic throughout the book, but they grow close emotionally, and rely on each other a lot. They're each others anchors in more ways than one. But it's also sweet seeing them fall for each other. I liked seeing the trust build between them, as well as the feelings. No love triangle!

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The ending had my heart racing and breaking and racing some more, but things worked out in a satisfying way (for now, I suppose). I'm a little scared of how much shenanigans the author could "cause" in the next books, because there is so much room for utter chaos! But the ending of this particular book was good.

What I Did Not Like:

This book is about 450 pages, and at some points, it really shows. Not each for me to stop reading, but enough for me to notice. There is a bit of drag midway through the story. I've seen some fellow reviewers stop reading at that point, because the story doesn't seem to go anywhere. But it goes somewhere, and it's really good! Especially in the last twenty-five percent.

Would I Recommend It:

If you like king/sword/pirate/magic kinds of fantasy, this is a book for you! I've been a little hit or miss with the YA '16 debuts, but this debut was definitely even better than I expected it to be.


4 stars. I'm looking forward to reading the next book! I almost wanted to save this series to binge-read the series all at once, but I'm glad I read this book now. It's such a great story!


Profile Image for Mogsy.
2,071 reviews2,631 followers
September 11, 2016
5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2016/09/11/...

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.
Profile Image for Lara (Bookish_turtle).
261 reviews188 followers
November 15, 2017
"This is a book. You are the reader. Look closer. There’s magic here."

I'm not sure exactly what it is about this book, but it is exquisitely magical. When I read books like this, I wish that every other book was as wonderful. I would highly recommend this book to anybody who loves YA fantasy.

"Once there was, and one day there will be. This is the beginning of every story. "

Assassins, magicians, pirates, this book has it all! The epic adventure stories intertwine and overlap to form a complex narrative which is a pleasure to read.

Told in third person from multiple perspectives, there is a myriad of characters to fall in love with. Each of them is so unique and well-written, there was not one perspective I dreaded reading from.

Often books with such complicated plots will leave me confused, but this story was clearly set out so that I could easily follow it, whilst still being surprised by the innumerable plot twists. The pace is a bit slower than many books in the genre, but it is done so well that I could barely notice.

I got completely lost in the story and never wanted to leave this magical world.

Sefia and Archer are too cute.

This fairy-tale reminiscent fantasy will draw you in and leave you wanting more! I loved absolutely everything about it and could find no faults whatsoever.

I highly recommend this book to anybody who loves to read. Presumably everyone, but if you love books then you will definitely appreciate the wonders of this narrative.
Profile Image for Fadwa (Word Wonders).
547 reviews3,524 followers
February 26, 2020
TW: Gore, blood, murder, death of a parent, death of a loved one, PTSD, panic Attack

Not gonna lie, I was confused for a good chunk of it about some things but that kept me sucked in the story because I wanted my questions to be answered, and when they were IT WAS SO GOOD AND UNEXPECTED and some parts of the story made so much more sense and my mind was blown.

I'm not sure I'll write a full review but PLEASE PICK IT UP!!! I'm so glad I have The Speaker at home so I can read it very very soon!

February 2020 reread: This book was even more magical the second time around. I'm not sure if it's because i was able to appreciate the details more this time around or because i listened to the audiobook but wow did i love it.
Profile Image for Aditi.
920 reviews1,345 followers
September 1, 2016
“When a reader falls in love with a book, it leaves its essence inside him, like radioactive fallout in an arable field, and after that there are certain crops that will no longer grow in him, while other, stranger, more fantastic growths may occasionally be produced."

----Salman Rushdie

Traci Chee, an American author, pens her debut YA fantasy novel, The Reader which is the first book in the Sea of Ink and Gold series and this series opens with a young teenage girl and her aunt who are on a run for ages from the men and the assassins who have murdered the girl's father. But pretty soon, the girl's aunt is kidnapped and she is left with so many unanswered questions about her parents and her sketchy past and especially with a package that contains a rectangular mysterious object that her kind do not know how to interpret it or rather say, read the book of her father's.


Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible.

The book opens with Sefia's journey along with her aunt, Nin, into the great wild and unknown forest in her land known as Kelanna, the land of illiterate people. They are on a run from those heartless men who have murdered Sefia's father and is after them for a package containing a book, but after Nin's kidnapping, Sefia decides all by herself to put the piece of puzzles to her past together to get some answers even if she need outside help to find the missing stories related to her past, she would risk it. And as Sefia begins to read that mysterious book with the help of a handsome and reticent boy, she loses herself in those strange short stories that draw a parallel line to her past and to the connection with her parents. But there are great and unavoidable forces out there who would go at any lengths to posses that book.

Firstly, I must pay my respect to this debut author by giving a standing ovation (virtually stands up and claps my hands) because of her effort, her imagination, her story telling, her myriad cast of characters, the short stories and as a whole to the book itself. The book has simply exceeded all my expectations about how a fantasy novel should be, with proper amount of magical realism, adrenaline rushing thrill, edgy dangers, anticipating mysteries, and unpredictable twists that made this book rich, deep and extremely enthralling. The stories within this story are truly exceptional and along with the protagonist, the readers too are bound to get lost into the heart of those mysterious short tales that will only enlighten the mind, body and soul.

The author's writing style is emphatic and distinctly exquisite with enough authenticity in the story line to make the readers connect properly with it. The narrative is highly absorbing and alluring although there are multiple narrative of so many diverse characters that not even for once will baffle the readers, in fact it will always keep the readers on their edges till the very end. The author here captivates the sheer beauty of the method of reading a book in all its glory. The pacing is quite slow yet well adjusted to the progress of the story and the articulate prose of it. The multi-layered plot is thick with so many twists and turns that will keep the readers glued to the pages of this book in order to look for the clues to find the light at the end of the complex maze of mystery underlying the main story line.

The fantasy world development is strikingly done by the author who have cleverly projected a land of people from various ethnic races living in harmony but with some ugly magical and mythical secrets and also the common people are illiterate, except the few who have braved themselves to the world of knowledge and literature. This make-believe world is completely justified with proper logic and reasons that will make the readers comprehend as well as believe in such a fantasy universe.

The characters from the book are really well developed and are drawn with enough realism. The main protagonist, Sefia, is a brave, intelligent, smart and a compassionate girl who not only is left torn apart with the unraveling mysteries and the edgy challenges but is also left sentimental and confident with the discovery of her powers. She is not a kick-ass heroine, instead a thoughtful and calm one who will inspire the many young minds those will read her story. The supporting cast of characters are distinct, realistic, strong and diverse that only make this story interesting and fulfilling.

In a nutshell, this beguiling fantasy novel leaves so many minds curious for the next book in the series and this is a must read book for all those who want to unravel the magic of reading stories within a story as well as with the charm and extent of an intricately crafted magical world.

Verdict: Thoroughly arresting, emotional as well as enlightening YA fantasy novel.

Courtesy: Many thanks to the publishers for giving me an opportunity to read and review an ARC of this book.
Profile Image for Deeksha Bhardwaj.
112 reviews130 followers
May 22, 2023
✨“𝙎𝙤𝙢𝙚𝙩𝙞𝙢𝙚𝙨 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙜𝙚𝙩 𝙬𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙬𝙖𝙣𝙩,” 𝙝𝙚 𝙢𝙪𝙧𝙢𝙪𝙧𝙚𝙙. “𝘼𝙣𝙙 𝙨𝙤𝙢𝙚𝙩𝙞𝙢𝙚𝙨 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙬𝙞𝙨𝙝 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙝𝙖𝙙𝙣’𝙩.”✨

The Reader follows Sefia. After her father is brutally murdered and her aunt kidnapped, the only clue she has is an odd rectangular object. Moving on the path of revenge and retribution, Sefia, with her mysterious powers and the Archer, the boy she saved along the way, is all set to save her aunt and punish the people responsible for her father's death.

𝗠𝘆 𝗧𝗵𝗼𝘂𝗴𝗵𝘁𝘀.
It took me a while to get past the first half of this book because of my reading slump and not the book. I didn't have any problem with the first half, the plot was interesting and the world-building was amazing👏🏼

This book is set in a world where reading and writing is a privilege that is hidden from the common world😮 A mysterious society and its members make sure this power remains unseen forever!!

It starts with Sefia living her life, surviving and hiding with her aunt Nin. Hiding, from the people who killed her father. But, little did she know that they were following them all along and now they have captured aunt Nin. Sefia is now all alone with a burning desire for revenge. 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗽𝗿𝗲𝗺𝗶𝘀𝗲. 𝗢𝗠𝗚🤌🏼🤌🏼

The plot was extremely enchanting and there was not a dull moment in the book. Sefia's life was just like a rollercoaster, with things turning in any direction that they want. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book👏🏼But, there was a tad bit too much going on for my taste and sometimes things become really confusing. With so many characters and POVs, I had a difficult time connecting the plot😓

The action and adventure were amazing! The mix of magic and skills in those scenes was very exciting and I had a wonderful time visualising the fights.. Moreover, I loooved the way the book is described and how it was used to connect everything in this universe🤩👌🏼

Sefia & Archer🥺🥺 they have my heart.. Sefia was an amazing female protagonist, strong and bold, with superb character development! And, 𝗔𝗥𝗖𝗛𝗘𝗥, 𝙠𝙣𝙤𝙬 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙝𝙚'𝙨 𝙢𝙮 𝙛𝙖𝙫𝙤𝙪𝙧𝙞𝙩𝙚 𝙢𝙖𝙡𝙚 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙩𝙖𝙜𝙤𝙣𝙞𝙨𝙩. This boy. OMGG! He was just..there are no words🤌🏼

✨"𝙃𝙚 𝙬𝙖𝙨 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙝𝙚𝙧. 𝙉𝙤𝙩 𝙟𝙪𝙨𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙚 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙝𝙚𝙧 𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙘𝙖𝙫𝙚, 𝙗𝙪𝙩 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙝𝙚𝙧 𝙞𝙣 𝙖𝙡𝙡 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙬𝙖𝙮𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙢𝙖𝙩𝙩𝙚𝙧𝙚𝙙."✨

Plus, their relationship was so pure and profound. They found each other when they needed each other. Their romance and connection were incredibly written with more actions than words... The little things made me smile every time!! I was mesmerized by their relationship. Just lovely🥰 I love how they have a sign🤞🏼 to say that they'll be together forever. And I kinda want an ARCHER'S POV!!!!! It would be soo good😘

Overall, I looved this book. A refreshing YA fantasy set up in a world where reading is known only to a particular group in society. With an extraordinary plotline, amazing characters, profound relationships, exciting action and a heartwarming romance, 𝘁𝗵𝗶𝘀 𝗯𝗼𝗼𝗸 𝗶𝘀 𝗼𝗻𝗲 𝗼𝗳 𝗺𝘆 𝗳𝗮𝘃𝗼𝘂𝗿𝗶𝘁𝗲 and it kept me captivated till that beautiful end.

I just can't wait to read the next book in the series! Highly recommended👍🏼

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Profile Image for Jessica ❁ ➳ Silverbow ➳ ❁ .
1,261 reviews8,753 followers
Shelved as 'books-i-own-but-haven-t-read-yet'
May 11, 2017
This one has promise. It starts as your typical YA fantasy, with a Bad Guy (or organization) hunting MC (for the past six years).

She doesn't know why, but they've killed her parents, and the only clue she has is something they gave her before they died, which she keeps in the bottom of her bag (we know nothing about it at this point beyond that it's relatively small).

My guess would be it has to do with the light she can see shimmering around things out of the corner of her eye, but what do I know?

Still, she's been getting by as a theif all these years, so again I say, it has promise.

You can read the preview in BUZZ BOOKS 2016: YA Fall/Winter, available as READ NOW on NetGalley: https://s2.netgalley.com/catalog/book...
Profile Image for Eve Messenger.
79 reviews60 followers
December 30, 2016
The best way I can think of to describe The Reader is that it is a "thrilling fairy tale." The world-building is in a league with Leigh Bardugo, the writing style is reminiscent of the brilliant V.E. Schwab, and there's a fairy tale quality that is all Traci Chee. If you like The Winner's Curse, A Darker Shade of Magic, and/or Rebel of the Sands, you'll love The Reader.

When I first heard about The Reader and then read the wonderful excerpt, I was super excited to read this book. After pre-ordering, I learned that--oh, no--there are pirates in it.


I am not at all into pirates; I mean, I didn't even get past the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. So this meant The Reader got put on a back burner for a while. As it turns out, there was nothing to fear. Yes, pirates do appear in The Reader, but they are not the central focus of the story and--guess what--I LOVED them! The pirates are noble and loyal and roguish in the best way.

Here's what The Reader is about: a girl named Sefia who is left on her own after the death of her parents (shocking YA fantasy set-up, right?) In Sefia's world, reading does not exist, but somehow she comes into the possession of a book. Sefia also has an ability to see golden light beyond normal life, where she witnesses people's histories. Lots of other things happen, but I won't go into much plot detail so you can savor the thrilling adventure for yourself. I'll just say The Reader gets better and better as you go along, and it's exciting how everything ties together. There's also a lovely slow-burn romance with a character I sincerely hope we get to learn much more about in book two. Yes, I am already planning to read book two, cannot wait for it, in fact.

To be honest, for the first few chapters, The Reader's story structure feels too busy. Several POV characters are introduced, there are interjections of distinctly different fonts that mean special things, and some of the chapters are from a book Sefia is reading in the story--which we're not aware of first, and that's a bit confusing. After a few chapters, though, the story comes together beautifully and completely sweeps you away.

As a fantasy book for teens, it might hurt a bit that The Reader features some characters who aren't adolescents, but those characters are so compelling and interesting, I didn't mind at all.

All in all, I'd have to say The Reader ranks among my top eight favorite reads of 2016. It's the last book I'll read this year, and I'm thrilled to end on such a high note.
Profile Image for Kali Wallace.
Author 26 books564 followers
March 5, 2016
THE READER is a glorious epic fantasy adventure with magic and pirates and assassins and secret societies and warring island nations and gloriously imaginative mythology. I got swept up right away--there's so much going on, so many distinctive characters, so many settings, but it's not confusing. It feels like you've been dumped into this fascinating world and sent off on an adventure, and what a great ride it is.

Sefia is a fantastic main character. She's complex, tough, compassionate, stubborn, and interesting, and the depth of her backstory and life experience is built up so wonderfully. But so many of the other characters are just as amazing, even when they're not in the center. The pirates! The assassins! The librarians! There are so many layers to this world, and so many people to inhabit it. I can't wait to read the sequel not just to find out what happens next, but to have a chance to spend more time in this glorious fantasy setting.

But what I really love most of all is how smartly all the stories-within-stories and myths-within-myths are layered and interconnected. It's no easy feat to make a book about stories--about reading, writing, remembering, vastly important but not exactly action-pact acts--into such a heart-quickening adventures, but Chee pulls it off like it's the easier thing in the world.

I read an advanced copy of this book.
Profile Image for Fafa's Book Corner.
513 reviews305 followers
October 17, 2016
Mini review:


This book was recommended to me by Lola! Click on her name to read her review.

I was pretty excited to read this book. Unfortunately it didn't deliver. Despite how the synopsis claims there is no form of reading but that's not true. There are many forms of reading for example symbols. There are symbols and other forms of reading in this book. Then comes in Archer who is mute. If there is no sign language how do they communicate? Simple Sefia takes guesses. Archer will do some hand gestures and she just guesses. Not sure how the romance is supposed to develop. Also Sefia does actually read the book and she learns how to read fairly quickly. After coming to this I couldn't bring myself to continue.

As far as the recommendation goes I'll leave it up to you.
Profile Image for Amanda.
Author 6 books199 followers
February 12, 2016
I read an early version of this and WOW. The writing is lush and beautiful, the world is fascinating and unique, and the characters and their decisions have stuck with me for months. And the romance - I'm not typically a big romance person, but this one was beautiful and broke my heart and then put it back together again. It's still 2015, but I already know THE READER is going to be one of my favorite books of 2016.
Profile Image for K.A..
Author 5 books252 followers
May 13, 2016
THIS BOOK! I am serious. THIS BOOK.

I was lucky enough to read an arc of Traci Chee's THE READER, and man (see above). I was hooked from the beginning to the end. Each time I had to put it down, I couldn't wait to pick it back up and dive into this beautifully, brutal world.

I loved Sefia, the MC, immediately. Her journey began with everything I love about YA Fantasy: cruelty, death, heartbreak so severe it bleeds out into the world around you, survival--emotional and physical, desperation, fear, blood, mystery, and all the lovely, pretty words. As more MC's joined them mix, I fell in love with each and every one. I LOVED Archer beyond words. BEYOND WORDS. And Reed (is there anything better than a pirate with a killer gun?!?). I can't say much more without giving things away, but if you are a reader who breathes words like fish do water, and craves a fantastical adventure based on the literal magic of words, THE READER if for you.

Profile Image for Kathy MacMillan.
Author 31 books438 followers
September 1, 2015
I received an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

We all know that books are magic, but in Sefia's world, it's literally so. No wonder literacy is such a forbidden commodity, so coveted that there are those who would die - or kill - for the words on the page. With its twisty narrative and surprising turns, THE READER will keep readers turning the pages till the end, and turning over the big ideas presented long after the story is over.
Profile Image for Jaime (Two Chicks on Books).
825 reviews399 followers
March 22, 2016
If I could give this more than 5 stars I would! I will admit the beginning was a bit slow and hard to follow until I figured out what was going on. But after that man did I LOVE this book! I adored Sefia and Archer. Oh and I have a huge crush on Captain Reed! I can't wait to read what happens next! I need book 2 now!!!
Profile Image for Allison.
489 reviews185 followers
June 28, 2016
"The Reader" feels like a classic. It's a book I would have loved to read at 12 or 13 or 14, though I definitely found it a delight to read now. With this novel, Traci Chee took me back to the sense of wonder I had while reading Philip Pullman or Madeleine L'Engle.

I can't wait to see what the finished copies for this look like, as there are "burned" pages, inky thumb prints, fade-outs, etc. The formatting is, quite simply, lovely.

Sefia's story is the main narrative, but it's intertwined with the stories of pirates, librarians, and assassins, and moves forward and backward through time as Sefia unravels the secrets of a mysterious book. Swashbuckling action, unforgettable characters, and a breathtaking setting should make this a modern classic.
Profile Image for Danielle.
Author 6 books71 followers
January 9, 2016
I just finished an ARC of this novel, and I am rolling around in all the feels. Honestly, it's not often that a book manages to be an emotional, sensory, imaginative, immersive read the way this is. Definitely recommended if you like epic storytelling, magic, pirates, assassins, and geeky meta-book stuff like marginalia and hidden clues in the physical book itself. WHICH I DO.
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