by Kate Elliott
Series: Court of Fives #1
Published on August 18, 2015 by Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
On the Fives court, everyone is equal.
And everyone is dangerous.
Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family, she can be whomever she wants when she sneaks out to train for the Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best competitors.
Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an improbable friendship between the two Fives competitors—one of mixed race and the other a Patron boy—causes heads to turn. When Kal’s powerful, scheming uncle tears Jes’s family apart, she’ll have to test her new friend’s loyalty and risk the vengeance of a royal clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.
In this imaginative escape into an enthralling new world, World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s first young adult novel weaves an epic story of a girl struggling to do what she loves in a society suffocated by rules of class and privilege.
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Everything about Court of Fives screamed READ ME when I went to pick it up. This year seems to be the year of magical games for me, having read both A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab and The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye. I was eager to jump into yet another competition of the fantastical kind. What I was met with could be described as The Hunger Games meet HBO’s Rome. An odd combination, for sure.
For the first half of the book, the protagonist Jessamy is fighting for her right to run in the Fives, a competition of strength, endurance, and intelligence. And for the second half, things take a turn for the worst and the Fives become a competition for her life and that of those she loves. What’s odd is that my brain segmented the book in two parts like this based on not only the story but the writing, leaving me both satisfied and a bit annoyed with the book overall.
I loved the thrill of the Fives. It reminded me a lot of the Hunger Games (the actual games) in that, though death wasn’t a traditional aspect, it still existed as part of the danger. The idea of victors being hailed as heroes. The test of not only strength but mental capacity, patience, skill. The danger of participating in such a competition. I felt drawn into the risk alongside Jes.
But I didn’t like the writing style for this section.
If you’ve ever watched HBO’s show Rome, you’ll likely remember the way they talk, very formal and almost stilted. Elliott almost mimicked this speech pattern alongside the Roman influence her world seems to hold to the point that I was turned off from any section of dialogue. It read in such an unnatural manner. But when Jessamy’s life takes a turn down a different path from the Fives, the writing changes and suddenly the formality seems to disappear except for the occasional mention of titles. The story therefore became a much easier read.
But not necessarily a better story.
I’m conflicted because while I enjoyed the story of the first half, though not the writing, I found the reverse true for the second half. The plot dragged and I thought it wasn’t going anywhere for a while. Having this particular split opinion makes it hard for me to recommend this book as it would depend on what part you asked me about. As for the comparisons I mentioned, I like both Rome and The Hunger Games separately, but not sure about them combined.
In terms of characters, Jessamy was an alright protagonist. I hated the way she threw aside her family so many times just for the Fives. Even after she gets what she wants, she still almost forgot them, only thinking of what happened to them from time to time until the BIG PLOT TWIST when her family became everything. That, at least, redeemed her in my eyes. But her recklessness also came off as foolishness which became annoying. I neither liked nor disliked her sisters Amaya and Maraya, but definitely hated Bettany. Not sure if we’re supposed to hate her or not based on the way she acts but if so, it worked. As for Kal the love interest, I liked giving him an obvious weakness and one he tried to overcome on a number of occasions, but I can’t say the romance aspect did much for me. It wasn’t out of place exactly but something about it felt rushed and almost unnecessary compared to the rest of the story. They could’ve developed a close-knit friendship and had a similar outcome (and male-female friendships seem to be less common in young adult fantasy so it would’ve been nice to see it here).
I think I liked this book. I certainly liked aspects of it while finding others not-so-great. In any case, I’ll be reading the sequel and hope to see more of the writing style from the second half with the fast-moving pace of the first present. Court of Fives struck me as average for the genre but with potential.