I don’t remember exactly when and how I started following Kate Elliott on LiveJournal, it may have been a comment she left on a friends’ entry or a climb through the branches of my friends’s list, fact is that I do follow her. When I read that she was expanding into YA I was excited, not because of any genre-specific fondness (I am rather neutral towards YA, actually) but because I find intriguing to follow an author I like in a foray into unexplored territory.
Court of Fives landed in my Kindle upon release and I finished it in two days.
I was hooked from page one: the quiet family scene may remind one of the start of Little Women (indeed, one of the sources of inspiration Elliott herself mentions for the novel), but it’s immediately clear that the setting for this book is completely different. This Italian reader was immediately reminded how, in the whole of the Mediterranean, courtyards are just another room of the house, to be used for work, play and quiet times. The scene had something of an archaic feel, much older than either the Civil War or the much abused pseudo-European, pseudo-medieval ‘age’ that is the standard of so many fantasy books.
I loved the world building, Elliott respects her readers enough that she doesn’t feel the need to guide them by hand and explain every little thing, the main points come up naturally and she trusts the reader to connect the dots.
Some readers may feel put off by the patriarchal nature of the setting, I am not among them. The problematic elements are clear, characters struggle with them and find ways to reach their objectives within the strictures imposed by their society or by bending those rules as far as they would go. Even the meekest character, the one that seem to have accepted everything and questioned nothing (Kyia, the mother) is shown in the course of the story to have done her far share of defiant acts. Moreover we are shown that the confining, restrictive ways of the Patrons aren’t the only options, now and again we see that the Commoners culture is way different and allows far more freedom to its women.
I would have liked, though, if Elliott had used different ‘nicknames’ for the two peoples sharing the land of Efea, rather than Patrons for the Saroese conquerors and Commoners for the conquered Efeans. As it is, they make it sound sort of dystopian, as if the divide was a matter of class, rather than ethnicity, and as if the two cultures were monolithic, while already in the first chapter we are shown the strenght of class divisions within the Patrons (the girls’ father is a baker’s son who normally wouldn’t be allowed much of a career in the army due to his lowly birth).
I liked most of the characters, with the notable exception of Amaya (who, I suspect, most readers will love to hate), and, of course, Lord Gargaron. The siblings’father is a complex character who makes some very unsympathetic choices. By the end of the novel I still haven’t been able to decide whether he really had no way out or whether he jumped at the opportunity while convincing himself that he had no choices, I’m looking forward to see what will happen to him in the next book(s). Kalliarkos is still likable by the end of the novel, and that’s no mean feat for somebody who is noble, rich and good-looking to boot. Of course the fact that we see him through the main character’s eyes helps.
Jessamy, the main character is definitely interesting, she is our door into the setting and an adolescent (a potentially dangerous combination), but Elliott makes it work. Jess is intelligent, determined, and, although a product of her times and place, due to her status as mixed-race she is at the same time out of both cultures, with all that such a position involves.
I enjoyed the description of the Fives trials although (but this is a matter of personal taste) I would have liked better some other activity as focus and reason for Jessamy’s defiance. After The Hunger Games gladiator-style competitions abound in YA, and even though the Fives are a sport and not a survival trial still they come out as a somewhat ‘expected’ element.
In any case, Court of Fives was a very enjoyable book, one I am sure I’ll read again waiting for the next instalment in the series.