Sep. 8th, 2016

owlmoose: (lady business - kj)
[personal profile] owlmoose
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Jessamy is moving up the ranks of the Fives — the complex athletic contest favored by the lowliest Commoners and the loftiest Patrons in her embattled kingdom. 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 Jes's traveling party puts her 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.

My name is KJ, and I'm a sports fan.

It feels a little weird to admit that here. My interest in sports isn't something I often talk about in SF/F fandom space, even though I know I'm far from the only fan here. But for a lot of nerdy people, especially nerdy boys, fandom is a place of retreat from the pressure to love sports, play sports, care about sports. I've often seen geeks wear dislike of sports as a badge of honor, taking it as a point of pride that they don't understand the rules of basketball or know who won the Super Bowl or recognize the names of famous athletes.

But me? I enjoy sports — as a spectator, at least, since I'm not remotely athletic. I grew up watching games on TV with my dad, every weekend as the seasons changed. My primary sports fandom is baseball (go Giants!) but I can follow along with any of the four major professional American sports, and I'll give almost anything a try — especially live. And every two years, I plunk myself on the couch for two weeks and absorb as much Olympics as I can (terrible coverage by NBC aside). I love sports for many reasons — the spectacle of the human body pushed to its limits, the teamwork and drama on the field, the sense that anything can happen at any moment, and the sheer levels of emotion involved are all compelling to me. Ever want to see what pure joy looks like? Watch a video of any team celebrating a championship: the hugging and the jumping, the laughter and the tears. I get chills, every time.

Although I would never claim my interest in sports is the only reason I loved Poisoned Blade, and its predecessor Court of Fives, as much as I did, it's certainly one reason, and not an insignificant one. This series is about a young woman and avid athlete named Jessamy, in love with a sporting competition known as The Fives (think gymnastics crossed with an obstacle course and add a healthy dose of American Ninja Warrior, and you're pretty much there). The first book revolves around her determination to compete as an adversary, and the risks she takes to participate despite the disapproval of both her family and society. In the second book, she is rising to the top of the game, battling both politics and her adversaries to seek greater heights. Jes's passion for the Fives, and the ways in which competing has taught her to think strategically, drive much of the action in both books. The thrill of the spectators and the competitive camaraderie among the adversaries are familiar to any sports fan. Kate Elliott is an athlete herself, and her own love of sports and sporting culture comes through here. I would love to watch adversaries run the Fives, and even as a reader I got caught up in the twists and turns of the competition.

Of course, these stories are about much more than the drama on the Fives court — and you certainly don't have to be a sports fan to enjoy them! As much as anything, Poisoned Blade is a political thriller, chock full of conspiracies, conflicting loyalties, and palace intrigue. Elliott draws all the right parallels between the strategies of the game of Fives being played out in front of spectators, and the game of thrones going on behind the scenes, as Jes gets drawn further into the schemes of the high-born Patrons who rule her homeland. The stakes are high in both courts, Fives and royal; a few twists literally took my breath away, and the end changes the game completely.

I also adore the romance, but after being an important focus of Court of Fives, the relationship between Jes and Kal takes a secondary role for most of this book. As much as anything, Poisoned Blade is about Jes's relationships with two of her sisters: her younger sister Amaya, who works within the system to not just survive but thrive, and her twin Bettany, who chafes at her role in society and seeks to escape by whatever means she can. Kate Elliott is at her best when she's writing about the bonds between sisters, in all their complex skeins of friendship and rivalry, and this book is no exception. As the story develops, Jes discovers an unexpected ally in Amaya while clashing with Bettany, and of everything I hope to see in the final book of the trilogy, I'm most eager to see how things among the sisters are resolved — or not.

In short, Poisoned Blade is more than a worthy follow-up to Court of Fives — it builds on the promise of that story, on its intrigue and characters and complex family relationships, and raises the stakes in a way that's satisfying in its own right as well sets the stage for what looks to be an exciting final chapter. So if you've read and enjoyed Court of Fives, definitely pick up the Poisoned Blade. And if you haven't read Court of Fives, what are you waiting for?

Other Reviews

Renay's review of Poisoned Blade,yours?

Other Posts in this Series

"Where have you been all my life?" Jaran by Kate Elliott by Mieneke
Giveaway! Court of Fives & Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott
Robot Pals and Revolution: A Passage of Stars by Kate Elliott
"The History of the World Begins In Ice" — Cold Magic by Susan
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Adventures Elsewhere collects our reviews, guest posts, articles, and other content we've spread across the Internet recently! See what we've been up in our other projects. :D

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Sidetracks is a collaborative project featuring various essays, videos, reviews, or other Internet content that we want to share with each other. All past and current links for the Sidetracks project can be found in our Sidetracks tag.

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