Thursday, August 4, 2016

ARC Review: Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott

**** This is the second book in a series. If you have not read Court of Fives, read that before you read this. Here's my review of Court of Fives to encourage you. ****

Title: Poisoned Blade
Series: Court of Five #2
Written by: Kate Elliott
Published: August 16, 2016 by Little Brown Books for Young Readers
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: In this thrilling sequel to World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott's captivating young adult debut, a girl immersed in high-stakes competition holds the fate of a kingdom in her hands. 

Now a Challenger, Jessamy is moving up the ranks of the Fives--the complex athletic contest favored by the lowliest Commoners and the loftiest Patrons alike. 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 her traveling party puts Jes 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.

*** I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher at BEA. This fact has not changed my opinion. ***

I really liked Court of Fives so I was really excited to get my hands on an advanced copy of the second book in the series at BEA so I could catch back up with this world and these characters. Unfortunately, while I liked this one it felt a bit like it suffered from second book syndrome for me. 

One of the things I liked about the first book in this series and enjoyed again here is the political intrigue. I think of this book as dystopian fantasy which is a popular thing in YA at the moment. But it's one of those worlds with a lot of exploration of power and control with the main characters trying to navigate a world of scheming and plotting. A world of precarious leaders do whatever they can to stay in power even if it is at the expense of their friends or family. There was seriously so much political intrigue her and everything was rally stepped up. As the book develops, more and more wrinkles of the plan are revealed and you see just how scheming the secondary characters are. It kept me guessing from beginning to end.

Unfortunately, the political intrigue was also one of it's downfalls. There was just so much going on here. From the Fives and the larger war, which were only minor plot points, to the political intrigue at court which took the bulk of the plot development. . It did keep me guessing here because it was incredibly complicated, but maybe it was too complicated, needlessly complicated. There was more than one occasion where there needed to be a big explanation of who was doing what and why, and even then it didn't always make sense. There was just so much telling instead of showing when it came to the plot development and that usually isn't something that I enjoy.

But in general this book was just muddled. There was so much going on here. The beginning did a good job of building on what happened in the first book and then suddenly things changed completely. It almost felt like there were two different stories here with very little segue. It did all eventually come together in the end but honestly through a lot of the book, I was taken out of the story trying to makes heads or tails of what was happening and why. This made for some issues with the pacing as well as there was almost two climaxes with a lot of rising action between that. It almost had to build up another story line instead of building onto a previous one. I'm such a plot driven reader and while the plot here was interesting, it felt too complicated at times.  

But the book was redeemed a lot by the characters. There are some incredibly interesting and complex characters in this series. So many of them walk the line between good and evil with dubious and selfish actions making you wonder if they are good and bad. They're loyalties are constantly under question and you don't know where they really stand until the very end. I also really like Jess as a protagonist. She's in such a precarious position in that she wants to do what is best for others but doesn't know what they is. She's constantly making mistakes and having to learn from them which makes me like her even more. But the one thing with the characters I did miss was the family and sisters angle. I really liked how Jes was so motivated around protecting her family in the first book and while that was a part of this book it wasn't as big a focus and I think that was so much of the heart of the first book. But in general, the characters and how complex they are is one of the best things about this series.

On the whole, this was an okay read. Not quite as cohesive and captivating as the first book with an overly-complicated plot and world-building but great characters and a lot of political intrigue. I think it may have suffered a little from second book syndrome but that doesn't mean I'm not interested in continuing with the series. I think this may be one that is better marathoned.

I give Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott 7.5 out of 10 stars

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Borrow. I think if you liked Court of Fives than you should give this book a try and continue on with this series. It wasn't as good as the first book in my opinion but it is an interesting read. If you are a fan of the dystopian fantasy trend in YA then check this series out but as I said, maybe wait until they are all out and marathon them.

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