Poisoned Blade, and a World Moving Towards a Revolution

An a sword shown over a shield with a blue background, with the cover readeing "To win the game, she must fight a war. Poisoned Blade. A Court of Fives novel. Kate Elliott, World Fantasy Finalist."
Image: Hachette Book Group via Kate Elliott; Cover Artist: Wes Youssi and Sammy Yuen

Genre: YA Fantasy

Synopsis: Jes and her sisters have grown up relatively sheltered, their aristocratic father hiding them away from much of the prejudice against their mother’s race. But after the kingdom’s politics force their father to abandon his family, the girls navigate the world’s dangers on their own. Jes has a place for herself running the Fives, a prestigious obstacle course race.

But she’s running them for someone who’s already tried to have half her family killed, and won’t hesitate to use her for his political ambitions. Trying to stay afloat in treacherous waters, Jes walks the line between her aristocratic upbringing and the other half of her heritage. Slowly figuring out her place in a conflict the aristocrats don’t even see coming.

Series: Second in a trilogy.

POV: First person.

Preview: Here.

I loved the first book Court of Fives, and Poisoned Blade has all of the same strengths while pushing the story further. The scope of the action keeps growing. In the first book, Jessamy started with very personal problems. Those problems grew as her family became the victims of local politics, powerless in the face of what the aristocrats decided to do to them. Then in the midst of saving her family, Jessamy gets exposed to flashes of other systemic problems–the position of the commoners, whose culture Jes is mostly unfamiliar though her mother is one of them.

The scope begins wider in Poisoned Blade–it has to, because Jes can’t go back in time and shrink her worldview. But it also starts off with a very personal problem. The political reality and her own precarious position made Jes choose her family’s wellbeing over the desires of her friend and romantic interest. He’s reeling from the betrayal, unable to understand how she made that choice.

But Jes’ problems keep growing as she tracks down the rest of her family. She can’t not see the hints of what her mother’s people are doing as she sees more of the world. She can’t not see which of her father’s people are trapped in the realities of their own world, though still oblivious to the problems of the commoners. To make things more complicated, the kingdom is at war with the land the aristocrats came from before they conquered this one.

Jes is just trying to save her family, but that won’t stop her from being thrown into the path of the war. It won’t stop her from developing opinions on the greater social context, or from noticing the way things are changing around them. The way the story grows, the coming conflict arising from everything that comes before, is exciting.

I’d also forgotten how great the sisters and their interactions are, since reading the first book. Each of them has her own goals and perspective. Though they all love each other and care about their family, they see the world very differently. Their strengths are different. And it’s cool to see them employ their own unique skills to a situation, where none of the others could have pulled it off. It’s amazing to watch them work together towards a common goal. But then their disagreements come out to fore, and that’s just so real.

Their conflicting worldviews are heartrendingly good. They have different opinions about their parents, and how well their parents did by them. They have different relationships to their heritage. They disagree about how all of them should be living their lives, about what’s best for themselves and for each other, to the point where their arguments lead to tears. They feel so passionately about it, in ways that are completely incompatible. Because they can’t understand why the others would make the decisions they made, and want something different for their sisters. It’s such a sharp, painful divide, and it’s so complex.

And the story really does work to show every possible interpretation of the girls’ relationship with their privileged father, too. We see the ways he’s done better than any of his peers, but we also see the ways he was lacking. And we see where he still has room to improve. Sometimes, he seems like a really good guy. Other times, he’s portrayed as someone who doesn’t really understand. At one point, one of his daughters states that he did as well as he knew how to, and that seems like a fairly good interpretation.

So I’m excited to see where the next book goes, because the conflict in the first two is so personal and so powerful. The hints to where the story’s going to go have me excited.