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Court of Fives

Review

Court of Fives

Strong-willed Jessamy Tonor must find a way to balance her social obligations to her family with her love of running a challenging competition called the Fives. Jessamy and her three sisters are mixed-race and looked down upon in her world. Their mother is a Commoner and their father is a Patron whose status is dependent on his rank in the army. In a society of rigid rules and elitism, any move could be the wrong one.
 
When disaster strikes, Jes must find a way to save her family, all while learning vital secrets about who she is and the true meaning of the Fives. 
 
Along with the opening scene and Jes’s father’s military status, the sisters’ names and personalities are influenced by the ones in LITTLE WOMEN: Jessamy or Jes is Josephine or Jo, Maraya is Meg, Amaya is Amy, and Bettany is (surprise) Bethany. It is interesting that Jessamy’s passion is competing in the Fives, much as Jo’s is writing stories.
 
When Jes catches the attention of Kalliarkos, a handsome palace boy, they start to form an unlikely friendship that might just be vital to Jes’s success in rescuing her family. 
 
The world-building in COURT OF FIVES is very detailed and the prose is carefully constructed and confident. Readers will love Elliott’s portrayal of female relationships --- while inequality is rampant in Jes’s world, interactions between the women are almost exclusively depicted as positive and supportive, never competitive or jealous. Jessamy and the women around her are constantly looking to help each other and build each other up. There is a lot of kindness, moral consideration, love and respect.
 
I loved how significant the number five is in COURT OF FIVES, and how Jessamy started to learn about her culture. The motifs of souls, shadows and masks are expertly woven into the plot. There is a lot of diversity in this book, and it’s not present just for brownie points. 
 
Readers will love Elliott’s portrayal of female relationships --- while inequality is rampant in Jes’s world, interactions between the women are almost exclusively depicted as positive and supportive, never competitive or jealous. 
 
However, I often found myself losing interest muddling through all 400-plus pages of COURT OF FIVES. While the world is very immersive and the adventure compelling, the plot feels too short and simple for the long length. There is a lot of description and explanation of both past and present. If you prefer to savor your books, perhaps this will be suitable. 
 
While Kalliarkos and Jes are both kind individuals with good intentions and the same passion, their romance felt underdeveloped and sudden; the chemistry between them is nothing special. I found the characters in this book to be well-defined, but something about them felt lacking. Kalliarkos, for instance, can only be described as “blandly cheerful” and “consistently pleasant.” He is blind to his status and wants to make friends with everyone, so there are a lot of ways his arc can go in the next installment. But while I wasn’t overly impressed by the characters in this first book, I trust that there will be plenty of development in the future. Standouts include intelligent, sometimes mean Lord Thynos (uncle of Kalliarkos) and spoiled, bratty Amaya who provided lots of comic relief. 
 
I also found some other nit-picky issues: nitpicky issues: the dialogue is overly archaic at the beginning but suddenly becomes less so, the motives of the villain are not fully explained and the interspersed history lessons are confusing and tiresome to read. Therefore, while Elliott is clearly a science-fiction and fantasy expert, this book might not be for everyone.
 
Overall, the world-building in COURT OF FIVES is imaginative and detailed and the society intriguing. The story arc is similar to that of many young-adult fantasy novels but stands out by masterfully weaving discussions of society and race into the plot to advance the message of strength and identity. The book will appeal to fantasy readers who are interested in mythology, class politics, gender studies and anthropology. Positive moral values are emphasized clearly, especially where they are missing in Jessamy’s society. It’s a well-written and compelling novel that sets up abundant space for the sequel to be even better.

Reviewed by Thien-kim H., Teen Board Member on September 2, 2015

Court of Fives
(Court of Fives #1)
by Kate Elliott

  • Publication Date: July 12, 2016
  • Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult 12+
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0316364304
  • ISBN-13: 9780316364300