Series Review: Court of Fives by Kate Elliott

I received this book for free from BEA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Series Review: Court of Fives by Kate ElliottCourt of Fives by Kate Elliott
Series: Court of Fives #1
Published by Little Brown BFYR on August 28, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 448
Format: ARC
Source: BEA
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Goodreads
three-half-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.

Originally, I read an ARC of Court of Fives back just before it came out. At the time, I really liked it despite some qualms and that held true for this reread. Court of Fives is a fun albeit clunky start to the trilogy.

The writing’s not great shakes, a bit more simplistic than necessarily quite fits. It tends to the staccato, with lots of short sentences and paragraphs, as a way of building tension and increasing the pace. Though it’s over 400 pages, Court of Fives is much shorter than it looks. The pacing does mostly stay at a brisk pace, but it’s after a clunky start.

At the opening, Court of Fives actually reads a lot like a fantasy Little Women, which doesn’t turn out to be a thing but I think that’s where the awkwardness of the start comes from. There are four daughters born to an interracial marriage of a Saroan “Patron” (the colonial people who took over Efea, who seem roughly Middle Eastern-inspired) and an Efean “Commoner” (who seem African-inspired). The heroine is Jessamy (Jo?), and the youngest sister Amaya just wants to be pretty and popular (AMY?). The dad’s in the army, which is also consistent with Little Women. It’s so similar there for a while, but it doesn’t end up meaning anything. I actually reread that book recently, and it’s just weird. (This is the most nonsensical review ever but whatever.) Read the actual review I wrote a couple years ago if you want actual coherence.

The novel focuses almost entirely on the running of the game called Fives. I’m curious to see how Elliott will expand from that, because that narrow focus can work for one book (think Ender’s Game,) but that can’t be the whole series.

Court of Fives is a pretty good series opener, with an interesting cast of characters and a lot of potential in the world. It’s not the best or most original fantasy out there, but I’m looking forward to finally reading Poisoned Blade.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:


Series Review: Court of Fives by Kate ElliottPoisoned Blade by Kate Elliott
Series: Court of Fives #2
Published by Little Brown BFYR on August 16, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 468
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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Goodreads
three-stars

Jessamy is moving up the ranks of the Fives—the complex athletic contest favored by the lowliest Commoners and the loftiest Patrons in her embattled kingdom. Pitted against far more formidable adversaries, success is Jes's only option, as her prize money is essential to keeping her hidden family alive. She leaps at the chance to tour the countryside and face more competitors, but then a fatal attack on Jes's traveling party puts her at the center of the war that Lord Kalliarkos—the prince she still loves—is fighting against their country's enemies. With a sinister overlord watching her every move and Kal's life on the line, Jes must now become more than a Fives champion...She must become a warrior.

Looking on Goodreads, I can see that my friends mostly didn’t enjoy Poisoned Blade that much. I definitely did; this series, for reasons I really can’t put my finger on, totally hits me in that crack joy spot. I read the whole book straight through.

Poisoned Blade is the weakest book in the series, but it didn’t feel like a large drop in quality. Mostly, it’s just that there’s a fair amount of marking time, waiting for plot points. It’s not that things don’t happen, but they happen more slowly than is entirely necessary. There isn’t a strong narrative arc to this installment. Things move along, but there’s not a massive sense of cohesion to Poisoned Blade as a singular volume. Once the war starts, things do get exciting, but that doesn’t happen until the end.

The big emotional pinnacle of Poisoned Blade is the reunion with Bettany. Unfortunately, everything big is spoilery so. View Spoiler »

One thing that was a huge miss in this book was when Jes goes to meet up with Ro-Emnu. She asks him about the password “Efea will rise,” which she had to use to get to the secret hideout. She’s so adamant that she must know what it means. That is as unsubtle as it could possibly be. Jes is renowned in-book for being a brilliant strategist, but she regularly does not put really obvious shit together. It’s not just this moment, and it happens in every single book, but this is the most flagrant example of where showing and telling do not jive in Jes’ characterization.

Bear with me on this brief commentary because I read Buried Heart directly after and before I wrote a review, and now I can’t really remember which parts were in which book. :-/

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:


Series Review: Court of Fives by Kate ElliottBuried Heart by Kate Elliott
Series: Court of Fives #3
Published by Little Brown BFYR on July 25, 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 448
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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Goodreads
two-half-stars

The explosive finale to World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott's captivating, New York Times bestselling young adult series

In this third book in the epic Court of Fives series, Jessamy is the crux of a revolution forged by the Commoner class hoping to overthrow their longtime Patron overlords. But enemies from foreign lands have attacked the kingdom, and Jes must find a way to unite the Commoners and Patrons to defend their home and all the people she loves. Will her status as a prominent champion athlete be enough to bring together those who have despised one another since long before her birth? Will she be able to keep her family out of the clutches of the evil Lord Gargaron? And will her relationship with Prince Kalliarkos remain strong when they find themselves on opposite sides of a war? Find all the answers in this beautifully written and exciting conclusion to World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott's debut New York Times bestselling young adult trilogy!

I’m simultaneously going to say that Buried Heart was a pretty satisfying series conclusion and also that it wasn’t. The thing is that, for what this series actually is, Buried Heart is consistent to what’s come before, and it doesn’t drop all the balls. Mostly, this series feels like a jongleur came out and tossed up ten balls, dropped half of them, but then successfully juggled the remaining five for the duration of the series.

There’s a lot of action throughout the series, so I was never bored. I was only minimally engaged with any of the characters, but just enough to keep my attention. Kal was probably my favorite overall. Jes is cool. I like Amaya and Denya and Maraya, though I wish I’d gotten to see more of them. Actually, I wonder if the problem is largely the fact that Jes is very focused on herself and the Fives, so you really don’t get to know anyone else that well, even the people to whom she is closest. The whole thing comes at you from a distance, like you’re sitting in the cheap seats watching the Fives tournament.

There are so many dropped balls, plot lines that started in book one but just never ever culminated in anything. Wenru and Bettany are MASSIVELY UNDERUTILIZED. Wenru’s this creepy baby inhabited by a spirit that is fluent in Saroese, and I expected some fucked up shit. View Spoiler » Bettany betrays her family in Poisoned Blade, and that could have had a huge emotional resonance. It’s so obvious that there should be another interaction, but, nope, she’s just gone. Realistic? Sure. Good fiction? Nah.

Speaking of underutilized characters, Ro, for all that he’s massively important actually, doesn’t really serve any role in the series except to be the pining second love interest. There’s no chemistry really, and it’s just so awkward. I kept expecting the ship to flip at some point, because otherwise WHY would there be two books of love triangle drama, but it’s just there to serve as a metaphor for how Jes feels torn between her Saroese and Efean halves. Listen, the whole series is already about that very overtly, so the love triangle really doesn’t help at all.

The timeframe also seems very short for all of this war to get neatly resolved, but I don’t know that much about military history, so maybe it can happen in a matter of months during a perfect storm of events. I do really like the bloodiness of the series; important characters die and Jes sustains injuries that will be with her forever.

One of my favorite aspects of the series, though, again it could have been done more compellingly, is Jes’ mother’s development. Kiya starts out as an entirely passive character. She does everything that Jes’ dad says. When he abandons her, she descends into misery (partially due to childbirth in the absolute worst of circumstances). But, after that, while still not being a physical person and defaulting more to mild, she ends up helping to lead a revolution. That’s pretty cool.

I enjoyed this series all the way through, but I doubt I’ll read it again. Mostly, I wish that I could have seen it done by someone like Sharon Shinn. I’d recommend Elemental Blessings or Summers at Castle Auburn over Court of Fives. I’d also recommend Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy over this one, because it has excellent character building; it’s still sloppy in terms of world building, but it’s much stronger overall.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

One response to “Series Review: Court of Fives by Kate Elliott”

  1. I remember being interested when this book first came out, and can’t believe all the books in the series have released. It sounds like an interesting read, and if you managed to read the entire trilogy then it must be good!!

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