Courts and Critiques: Two reviews of Court of Fives by Kate Elliott

courtoffivesTitle: Court of Fives (Court of Fives #1)
Author: Kate Elliott
Genre: Fantasy / Dystopian
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 18th, 2015
Kindle Edition: 448 Pages
Source: Personal Purchase

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.

“There will come a moment in your life where you find yourself confronted with two choices, and both are bad ones. For me it was to stay in a place where I was choked and had nothing to look forward to and no way to prove my talents, or to leave everyone I knew and loved behind forever for a chance that might not work out. That is how the gods test us, by laying before us what seems to be a choice and yet is no choice at all. When we come to that fork in our path down which no road is clean, all we can control is what dignity and honor we take our inevitable step.”

Welcome to my very first group review! I am not sure how I convinced Delaney (of All of the Book Things) to read a dystopian novel for our first buddy-read, as she is very vocal about her dislike of all things dystopian. But, I lobbied for Court of Fives and she agreed. And guess what? I think she liked it more than I did. Let’s find out!

How was the plot?

Caitlin: I think this book suffers from being the first in a series as well as the author’s YA debut. Elliott started out telling the story of a girl stuck between two worlds. Jessamy, the daughter of a Patron war hero and his Efean paramour, struggles with issues of race, sex and class as she tries to find her place. That story could have been compelling. Unfortunately, the author included too much and the story lost its direction. Between the addition of political intrigue and an awkward romance, I found myself overwhelmed. I felt pulled in several directions, all while trying to get a grasp on a complex world that went largely unexplained until the end of the book.

Delaney:  I don’t think that I had as much of a problem with direction as Caitlin did while reading this one. As she mentioned, there is a lot going on in this story. There’s a bit of a political mess, a bit of a social mess, and a bit of an emotional mess. I did think, however, that the author did a good job of making it all mesh together well.  Even though our main character was experiencing a whirlwind of conflict, I could tell she had goals and that she was going to work to achieve them. I think I’m always a bit more lenient with first books in a series because I have faith that the author will tie everything together eventually. 😛

And the characters?

Caitlin: Jessamy is a character you want to root for. She’s a strong-willed female fighter. Who doesn’t love that? Alas, she is surrounded by a supporting cast of extremely underdeveloped personalities, which led to her appearing selfish. I am not sure if this was intentional or simply a side effect of being enveloped by immature characters, but the “revelations” she had about her siblings near the end of the book made it impossible to ignore. I hope to see her grow into someone who is less self-involved in the sequel. As for the auxiliary characters, there is only one place to move, and that is up.

Delaney:  I wasn’t fond of Jessamy as a character at first. I felt she came off as self centered and close minded. She was overly judgmental of everyone around her, including her own family and I was turned off by her ‘poor me’ mentality. Not everything revolved around you, Jessamy :P. I tried to keep in mind that the world she lives in is much different than mine (I have never had to experience caste systems or social prejudice), but…she still just came off as unappealing at first. I didn’t feel that the other characters were underdeveloped, more so that everyone in this society had been groomed to act a certain way. I am happy to report that by the end of the book my viewpoint of Jessamy had changed a bit. As a result of some of her experiences in the book she seems to start caring about people other than herself.

What about the ending?

Caitlin: The plot tug-of-war only got worse near the end of the book. Jessamy is already dealing with family issues, a diabolical General with fuzzy motives, a budding love affair, and an inappropriate desire to compete in public sporting events. Now we toss in odd mystical occurrences, dodgy conversations about religion, and the possibility of her new lover inheriting not one but two thrones. It is just too much.

There was so much potential in this book. I think if the author hadn’t tried to establish so much, so fast it might have been an entertaining read. As it stands I spent most of my time trying to puzzle everything out. With the world established (sort of), my hope is that the second book will not suffer from the same pitfalls as the first.

Delaney: So basically, all of the things that Caitlin listed. However, these were all of the reasons why this book won me over in the end.  One of my main complaints of dystopian novels is that they all follow the same road. I am easily bored and I hate when I can predict an outcome. This book (although honestly after reading I felt it was more of a dystopian/fantasy) kept me on my toes and played with my emotions. Was the author going to kill someone off? Is Jessamy destined to overthrow an evil general’s ownership of her father? I really don’t know what is coming next and I like that.

Caitlin recommends for: Readers who enjoyed The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski.

Delaney recommends for: Readers who like adventure, strong female character leads, and feeling stressed out at not knowing if characters are going to be killed 😛

Thanks for tuning in and don’t forget to check out All of the Book Things. Send Delaney some love!