ARC Review: Sword and Verse

Sword and VerseSword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Release date: January 19, 2016

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 is a high fantasy set in a world where slavery and racism are intertwined with the legends of the gods. The kingdom of Qilara employs slaves they Arnathim, who were their own people banished for their skin color, and their loyalty to a certain fallen goddess. Generations later, the system of slavery continues at the time our heroine Raisa, is chosen to become a tutor-in-training. The kingdom divides it’s people on the basis of literacy – with a two sets of scripts for the same language and Raisa endeavors to learn so that she can unlock the mystery of the one thing she had from her parents. Her life is compared to a bird in an open cage – free to go, but been so used to slavery they don’t see another path. She, and many other slaves are resigned to their lives and see no way out.

When she falls in love with the prince and he with her, she begins to toe a dangerous line. Firstly, as a Tutor, she is supposed to be chaste, but secondly, as a lower class person, she can’t ever have him. Then she falls in with the rebels, and her loyalties are further divided. On one hand, she is Arnathim but she also knows his goodness, even if he is a bit of a boy-king, untrained in the matters of real politics. And the court is a political minefield when he ascends to power and she has to make difficult choices. She is way too invested in him to always make the right ones, but then again, even the rebels are not always seeing the whole picture. Trapped on both sides, she ultimately figures out an ancient secret that literally turns the tide (ha!) and rest, is as they say, spoilers.

The most impressive thing about this book is the world-building. The pantheon of seven gods and Gyotia especially is reminiscent of the Greek Olympians, while the writing systems closely resemble the Japanese-Chinese system. The two storylines running along gave it the two flavors of fantasy and slightly dystopian (I see rebel or resistance and my brain screams dystopian, okay?). The author gave good attention to details with this high fantasy, with forming a mythology and an entire different way of the language system. I was, however, not so invested in the romance, as Mati came off as selfish initially. I even got pissed when he said he was making so many sacrifices for her, when he was still a prince and the stakes were low. Raisa, for her part, was impassive for most of the storyline, which made the plot drag in the start. The ending, in a way, was complete and I am honestly intrigued what the next book would be about.

In conclusion, I found this to be a terrific series, rich in good writing and intelligent world-building.

Received a free galley from HarperTeen via Edelweiss; this doesn’t affect my opinions or the review.

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