Written by: Kathy MacMillan
Release Date: January 19, 2016
Pages: 384, hardcover
Series: Sword and Verse, #1 (BUT written as a Standalone)
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Thank you to Harper for the eARC!
In a sweeping fantasy debut that Franny Billingsley called “fascinating and unique,” palace intrigue blends with epic world building, resulting in a story that fans of Rae Carson and Megan Whalen Turner will love.
Raisa was just a child when she was sold to work as a slave in the kingdom of Qilara. Despite her young age, her father was teaching her to read and write, grooming her to take his place as a Learned One. In Qilara, the Arnathim, like Raisa, are the lowest class, and literacy is a capital offense. What’s more, only the king, prince, tutor, and tutor-in-training are allowed to learn the very highest order language, the language of the gods. So when the tutor-in-training is executed for teaching slaves this sacred language, and Raisa is selected to replace her, Raisa knows any slipup on her part could mean death.
Keeping her secret is hard enough, but the romance that’s been growing between her and Prince Mati isn’t helping matters. Then Raisa is approached by the Resistance—an underground army of slave rebels—to help liberate Arnath slaves. She wants to free her people, but that would mean aiding a war against Mati. As Raisa struggles with what to do, she discovers a secret that the Qilarites have been hiding for centuries—one that, if uncovered, could bring the kingdom to its knees.
Sword and Verse was a really fun reading experience for me, I’d been told to read this by a good friend who loved it dearly, so I was expecting pretty big things. What I got was, admittedly, different from what I’d expected. But it was still such a solid book, that I found myself really pleasantly surprised.
Sword and Verse follows Raisa over the course of three years or so, which is one thing I usually don’t like in books, time jumps, but for some reason in this book it works really well. Mostly because Raisa’s story is so in depth and most of it does take place behind the scenes. Time passes for Rasia allowing her views and her feelings to change, allowing her to see more than what she would’ve if the story only lasted six months or so. The one thing this allows for beyond anything else, is a completely realistic romance. But we’ll get into that more later.
This book focuses so much on reading and writing, the written language has been banned by all but nobility, and only the prince and King have the ability to write in the higher order language. The only slave allowed to know any form of the written language is the Tutor, the slave assigned to teach the next prince or princess. I really loved the way that language became such an important thing. In our culture, especially us book nerds, we take reading for granted. We read all the time and don’t even think twice about it. But MacMillan is able to show a different side of things, she’s able to really capture what it feels like to have reading locked away and unreachable.
I think for me the biggest thing that didn’t work with Sword and Verse is that – while there are so many amazing ideas and unique plot twists and even just great plot ideas here – it’s written like a diary, there are slow parts, there are fast parts. It’s not that it’s a bad book, it’s very solid actually, but for the first half of the book I kept asking myself “Okay so what’s the plot of this thing? The rebellion? Where’s the PLOT?”
Finally I realized that Raisa’s story was the plot. It’s a diary of this girl who does things, some of them incredible, some of them stupid, but at the end of the day it’s a diary. The plot isn’t like The Hunger Games where it’s a girl shoved into a world and a story. The plot is her life. It works very well once you figure that out, but to get there…well it was a bit of a rocky start for me.
Relationship! Ugh finally something realistic when it comes to different classes falling in love, and when it comes to relationships that mean something. When we catch up to Raisa after the first year jump she’s already got a crush on Mati, but it’s been a solid year where nearly the only person she really gets to talk to is him. My first fear was that we were going to go right into insta-love, but as you read it becomes clear that this is a deep friendship that’s just starting to become more. That’s how the story progresses too. Their friendship turns into a relationship over time. The time jumps, while being a little distracting for the reader, were so vital to the relationship. I could go on but I fear I’d get into spoilers if I did.
The ending was so much more than I expected. Like this book didn’t feel like it was building up to something so huge, but hot damn, it was. It was building up to something that was amazing plot reveals, and amazing ideas and thoughts all coming together into this woosh. Looking back I can see the little bread crumbs, but they’re well hidden. This book felt like it hits you (and the characters) with a giant stick and you’re all forced to deal with it.
At the start of every chapter is a small blurb from the story of the gods. This gives so much background to the world, and as the story progresses, starts giving you huge foreshadowing, before finally intertwining to the story to take it to that next level. Trust me this isn’t something you want to read me rambling about, this is something you want to experience.
Also before I run away into the great beyond I should mention this book is written like a standalone. You could read Sword and Verse and walk away with a full story. But the author is continuing, focusing on another character. I’m so excited to get back to this world and see where it goes from here.
Honestly this book was just so DIFFERENT. New kinds of romance, new kinds of plots, new kinds of pacing, new kinds of ideas… All of it comes together for a solid book. It’s so different that it’s a little jarring and sometimes hard to really fall in love with. But something I am thrilled I read, and something I hope goes on to start some new trends in YA.