Title: Court of Fives
Author: Kate Elliott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
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.
I was really excited for this book, but I'm not as impressed with it as I was expecting. I have adored all the other Kate Elliott books, and although this one was good too, I didn't love it as much as I thought I would.
What I love about Kate Elliott's books is that I can count on them to turn gender stereotypes on their heads. It's always refreshing to read a fantasy/sci-fi book that is full of complex women who are never subject to objectification. Court of Fives is no exception; The book also does an excellent job with addressing and grappling with skin color and prejudice. Jess and her sisters are "half-bloods", since their father is a Patron while their mother is a dark-skinned commoner. I liked how Kate Elliott dealt with the precarious situation of being shunned for associating with/being common-born but also being expected to maintain face like a Patron family.
What I didn't enjoy so much about the story was the characters. Jessamy never really struck me as an interesting or lovable character, and while I admired her strong loyalty to her family, I thought she was incredibly stupid and selfish at other times (why risk everything to run the Fives in the first place if you know you can't ever win?). Jess's sisters were also not very likeable to me. I really admire their mother for her quiet strength though.
I was also expecting more of a friendship/relationship between Jess and Kalliarkos. He just kind of appears and then he helps Jess with a few things and then suddenly they're in love. I was scratching my head and wondering when that happened because they'd hardly interacted at all.
And finally, the very strange pacing of the plot. This book takes a very long time to get the story set up, and the actual conflict doesn't even begin until nearly halfway through. Then there are more secrets and revelations but they come so late that I stopped caring about the characters and their (albeit terrible) predicament.
I think my main issue with the book is my own high expectations for it; it's not a bad book, and I am sure others will enjoy it. I just expected more having read some really amazing stories by the same author.