I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Sword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan
Series: Sword and Verse #1
Published by HarperTeen on January 19th 2016
Genres: High Fantasy, Young Adult
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Raisa was just a child when she was sold to work as a slave in the kingdom of Qilara. Despite her young age, her father was teaching her to read and write, grooming her to take his place as a Learned One. In Qilara, the Arnathim, like Raisa, are the lowest class, and literacy is a capital offense. What’s more, only the king, prince, tutor, and tutor-in-training are allowed to learn the very highest order language, the language of the gods. So when the tutor-in-training is executed for teaching slaves this sacred language, and Raisa is selected to replace her, Raisa knows any slipup on her part could mean death.
Keeping her secret is hard enough, but the romance that’s been growing between her and Prince Mati isn’t helping matters. Then Raisa is approached by the Resistance—an underground army of slave rebels—to help liberate Arnath slaves. She wants to free her people, but that would mean aiding a war against Mati. As Raisa struggles with what to do, she discovers a secret that the Qilarites have been hiding for centuries—one that, if uncovered, could bring the kingdom to its knees.
Predictably it is 2 am when I start writing this review. Let’s get on with this then.
For some reason, a lot of books I’ve been reading recently deal with slaves and slavery. The protagonist in Sword and Verse lives in a world that has a strict hierarchy and the populace is divided into the predictable Haves and Have-nots. The Haves are further divided into Royalty and Not-Royalty. If you are Royal, you get to learn this super-special-snowflake written script/language that no one else (except it is assumed the Gods) know. Well, okay, I lied. The Tutor and Tutor-In-Training also know this language (I’m calling it language). These two personages are always slave stock and are infinitely expendable so teaching them this special language is not that big a deal and functions to ensure this language is taught to the next generation of royalty.
Raisa is chosen as to be Tutor-In-Training. She was taken from her island home when she was a baby and all her family and people she would have grown up calling her own were killed by the order of the king she now serves. The prince (whose child she is training to eventually teach) showed her kindness and Raisa…well, he’s a prince and it’s a YA novel so she can hardly be expected to do otherwise. Raisa, bless her, falls in love with this prince. Of course, there are other issues at work here. Like the rebel leader who wants Raisa to take off her rose-coloured glasses and start helping them overthrow the king and gain some sort of liberty and dignity. So Raisa is torn between the prince and not-being-a-slave.
You see, I had high expectations for this novel. I mean, it’s blurbed by Franny Billingsley who wrote one of my favourite novels but unfortunately, it just didn’t work for me. The worldbuilding lacks detail and vibrancy. I loved the sections of the novel where discussion of this special language happens but these discussions are far and fleeting.
The majority of the novel is Raisa and her feels for the prince who is extremely forgettable. In fact, I forgot his name. One second. So Prince Mati grows up with Raisa, learning together, declares himself and they start having lots of sex because that’s what teenagers do. While Raisa is planning something long term, he is doing other things like getting betrothed and stuff. All without telling Raisa. I’m okay with romance except when it subsumes the entire narrative (as it does in this book). The power disparity between Raisa and Prince Mati is mentioned but does not get as thorough a discussion as I wished it would.
Raisa is not likable. I found it difficult to empathize with her as she failed me in so many ways. I understood up to a certain point when she hesitates to make a choice and pick a side; she has a cushy life compared to other people and okay, that might be difficult to give up but her constant waffling, her selfish, her lack of zeal and passion and just she’s a wet blanket through and through. I mean, THESE PEOPLE KILLED YOUR PEOPLE. Even when she tries to get the prince to think of the slaves, it is SHE who has to see from his viewpoint. Like, “I know this is hard for you—” Yeah, how dare these people you’ve been using as slaves decide that they want to be treated as people and not objects? How dare they rebel and kill people when you and your ilk have been using them and killing them for centuries now? How can THEY be so selfish? UGHHHH. Raisa seems to forget that she is a slave–yes, well-dressed and well-fed but a slave nonetheless.
I wanted to smack Raisa so many times during this novel that it’s not even funny. The side characters are nothing brilliant either. I only liked the current Tutor who, it seemed, was the sole voice of reason that Raise (of course!!) doesn’t listen to.
Things do get a bit more complex as the narrative continues but it’s far too late and far too little to salvage the novel. There are moments during the book when I thought that Raisa might yet rise to the occasion and become the protagonist I so wanted her to be but no. She didn’t and I’m still disappointed by that. I expected things, you know?
The book has glimmers of brilliance but these glimmers shine through a thick fog and fail to penetrate through this fog and shine brightly. Pardon the analogy, it is almost 3 am.
But look, just because this book didn’t work for me doesn’t mean you won’t feel the feels and like it a whole lot more than I did. My advice? If you really have to read it, get it from the library.