Poisoned Blade is the second book in Kate Elliott’s YA trilogy, Court of Fives.
This trilogy follows Jessamy, a young girl born in a land called Efea which was conquered and consequently colonized by the Saroese from across the sea many generations before. She is the daughter of a famous Patron (of Saroese origins) general and a commoner (native Efean) woman. When the Saroese conquered Efea, they installed their own people to rule over the inhabitants of the land, making them less than citizens and in some cases keeping them in bondage. Jessamy and her sisters find themselves part of both worlds, and yet belonging to neither. But on the Court of Fives, an intense obstacle course that is run for the people’s entertainment, the Adversaries are treated as equals. When Jessamy decides to run to run the fives, the general’s daughter is always playing to win.
This second volume finds Jessamy working her way up to Challenger in the Fives Court. She’s become a bit of a celebrity, something like a famous gladiator. Her mother is safe, for now, but she still must search for one of her sisters. And things are complicated between her and Prince Kalliarkos ever since the way things ended at the last run on the court. A member of Lord Gargaron’s stable of Adversaries, she is pulled into intrigues within the royal court. Meanwhile the country is at war with the old Saro kingdoms, the price of bread is rising, and there is the threat of uprising in the air. Realizing she’s in a precarious position, she will have to decide who to side with in order to live through things, even if it has to be one of her enemies.
One of the many things I like about these books overall is that Jessamy has a family. She’s not an orphan! There isn’t the ‘death of a parent’ motivation that is so prevalent in fantasy. She has a family. It may have its ups and downs, but it exists. Her sisters have their own voices but it’s clear that they do, for the most part, care for each other like a family. I don’t think we see much of this in fantasy, to be quite honest. This book explored Jessamy’s relationships with her family members quite a lot and each of those relationships is pretty complex. Her sisters rebuke her for caring about her father still because they see him as having abandoned them. But Jes believes he didn’t have a choice and so, while she’s not happy about it, she can’t hate him either. There’s an interesting dynamic between father and daughter as well, pride on both sides, wanting to protect each other, and wanting to be able to live together like other families.
There is an epic ton of intrigue in this one. If you like intrigue, this may be a book you’ll enjoy. Jes walks right into the thick of things several times (her timing is either very lucky or very unlucky) leaving her being one of the few people able to piece together an impending coup. (Or is she?) These plots put not only her father, but also Kalliarkos in danger so she feels forced to act. I love her boldness, even though it inevitably leads her into trouble.
The characters are well-developed, even the smaller characters seem to have well thought-out backgrounds and histories. Some of the ‘bad guys’ perhaps seem like they’re bad just for the sake of being bad, but I quite enjoyed Lord Gargaron in this one as I found him to be much more nuanced. Oh, he’s still detestable, but sometimes he is useful and he even displays a bit of self-sacrifice at a certain point. I feel like Prince Kal showed some great character growth as well, clearly going out to soldier has done him some good.
There is a good bit of stuff set in motion during this book, and other things that had been set in motion from the first get further moved along. Efea is at war, the royal court is falling apart, an uprising is clearly on the horizon. Where will Jes fit into all of this? I’ll have to see in the final book. 🙂 Really enjoyed this one, and rated it 4/5 stars on goodreads.
I’d like to also say how much I enjoy Kate Elliott’s writing overall. I’ve read several books by her in different series and although they’ve all been decidedly *different* (she is definitely not one of those authors that tells the same story over and over again) they all feel very much like her work. Her world-building is always wonderfully detailed and she writes a wide range of characters with different backgrounds, each with their own set of motivations. Her worlds feel more real for reflecting the variety of our own world. So if you haven’t tried Kate Elliott yet, you really should check out her work. If you’re not sure where to start she has a terrific write-up on her site tackling that very question.