Court of Fives by Kate Elliott is a YA fantasy book and one that I found myself being sucked into even in the middle of a reading slump. I found the protagonists engaging and loved the world. I found it had a bit more substance than some YA fantasy novels.
What I liked
Cultural tensions. This is very much a tale of being caught between two cultures. Our protagonist, Jessamy, is the child of a Saroese father and Efean mother and struggles to fit in with either culture. Her father’s people, who are the conquerers of the Efeans, do not fully accept Jes as one of their own due to her mixed heritage yet her genteel upbringing closes her off from acceptance in her mother’s society. Jes herself also struggles to find her place in her world. The only time she can truly be herself is when she is training for the game the Court of Fives. Although we do not live in a magical society, this theme may still strike a chord with many readers.
The Games. I really enjoyed how the game of Court of Fives permeated the story to a great extent. We see the games themselves a couple of times in the books, but it’s made clear that the skills Jes uses to become a successful Fives player are the same skills she and Kalliarkos will need to get out of certain situations and also to navigate Saroese politics. I really loved that politics was hinted to be just a different version of the Court of Fives.
The magic and Jes’s journey. The magic is very subtle in this book and is tied to the Efean culture. At this point in her story Jes still struggles to accept her Efean heritage, so she has difficulty understanding the magic. I expect that Jes’s journey in future books will be to embrace her cultural background, at which point the magic will become more and more prominent. That I am excited to see.
Little Women. I read in the author’s notes that the characters of Jes and her sisters were based on those of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I didn’t notice that at first, but once you do see it, it is very clear. It was fun seeing those personality types in a completely different setting. I am curious about what it means for the sisters’ character arcs in upcoming books and whether they will mirror those of Alcott’s.
Moral dilemmas. Certain of the characters, including Jes, face moral dilemmas at certain points in the book. I felt these were very well written and engaged my sympathy for the characters. I am very interested to see how the decisions made will impact future character development and relationships. I’d like to think Jes will have more understanding for her father in future.
What I didn’t like
The romance. I wouldn’t say I disliked the Kalliarkos/Jes romance; it’s more a case of I’m waiting to see how it plays out in future books. I was concerned that it felt a little too much Instalovey, which I don’t like. If the parallels with Little Women hold true, the future for the couple doesn’t look too rosy.
In the end I really enjoyed Court of Fives and gave it four and a half stars out of five. I have an Advanced Reader Copy of the sequel, The Poisoned Blade, and I’m very excited to read it.