#Review & #Interview: Sword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan

Posted January 12, 2017 by Jamie in Interviews, Reviews // 2 Comments

bamfs-aloud-recap#Review & #Interview: Sword and Verse by Kathy MacMillanSword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan
Published by HarperTeen on January 19th 2016
ISBN: 0062324616
Pages: 384
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Raisa was only a child when she was kidnapped and enslaved in Qilara. Forced to serve in the palace of the King, she’s endured hunger, abuse, and the harrowing fear of discovery. Everyone knows that Raisa is Arnath, but not that she is a Learned One, a part of an Arnath group educated in higher order symbols. In Qilara, this language is so fiercely protected that only the King, the Prince, and Tutors are allowed to know it. So when the current Tutor-in-training is executed for sharing the guarded language with slaves and Raisa is chosen to replace her, Raisa knows that, although she may have a privileged position among slaves, any slipup could mean death.

That would be challenging enough, but training alongside Prince Mati could be her real undoing. And when a romance blossoms between them, she’s suddenly filled with a dangerous hope for something she never before thought possible: more. Then she’s approached by the Resistance—an underground army of slaves—to help liberate the Arnath people. Joining the Resistance could mean freeing her people…but she’d also be aiding in the war against her beloved, an honorable man she knows wants to help the slaves.

Working against the one she loves—and a palace full of deadly political renegades—has some heady consequences. As Raisa struggles with what’s right, she unwittingly uncovers a secret that the Qilarites have long since buried…one that, unlocked, could bring the current world order to its knees.

And Raisa is the one holding the key.


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Dani’s Review

One thing made this book really interesting for me: the cultures. As in the real world, there were some similarities between the different peoples, such as the religion and writing, though, due to natural development over time, there were also distinct differences. In our interview with her, Kathy talks about how she based the writing in SWORD & VERSE on her study of Latin and how language changed over time in different regions. You can see evidence of that in the book in the way the writing systems had similar basic characters but different interpretations dependent on where the writer was from. There were also two different sets of characters in the kingdom, one for scholars and the other for royalty and tutors alone. Given my background, I personally thought of the Japanese writing systems, of which there are three, though we discussed how anyone would be able to draw parallels based on their own background, since all languages developed in similar ways.

As for the religion, I love mythology and creation stories. There was a second story told throughout the book of the creation of the world and the gods, and how reading and writing became a privilege for nobility alone. This story was told in snippets at the start of each chapter and was fascinating and different, making me think of Greek and Roman gods. To my surprise and delight, this secondary story turned out to be connected to the main one towards the end, bringing an extra boost to the ending.

I listened to the audiobook, and I thought the narration was really well done. Emily Rankin was able to give life to Raisa’s voice, bringing in just enough emotion without being over the top. Raisa was a rather naïve soul (tehehe, you’ll understand if you’ve read this), though, to be fair, so was Mati. Where YA fantasy is filled with tough protagonists, it was interesting to see two unprepared and, on the outside, somewhat weak characters find the power to change the status quo.

There was some flirtation with the potential of a love triangle, but it never fully explored that path. On the one hand, I commend Kathy for committing to the Raisa/Mati relationship. However, as Jamie discusses in her review, the relationship is between a slave and her master, and this is problematic. While Mati treats Raisa well for the most part, there are instances where he wields his power over her. Furthermore, any discovery of their relationship would naturally affect her more than him. Putting this problem to the side for the second, I also wasn’t completely invested in the relationship.

I think this brings me to the main reason this is a 3-star instead of a 4-star book. While I found facets of the story very interesting, the storytelling never sucked me in fully. In fact, I wonder if I would have continued if not for the narration, which meant I could progress through the story while doing other things, like travelling. Would I have been engaged enough to fully dedicate my time to SWORD & VERSE? I’m not sure…

Overall, while I struggled through the pacing of the story, I did like way culture was at the forefront of it all. It separated SWORD & VERSE from other YA fantasies of its kind.

Jamie’s Review

There were parts of this one I really enjoyed and other parts that I was skimming over, but overall I think this was a pretty good YA fantasy novel and I am looking forward to the sequel. I was iffy about some of the pacing at some points, since it seemed to drag on, and I was a little on the fence about the romance, but I’ll get more into it below. However, I loved the language system and the way that words were seen as magic. Plus I loved the mythology and the inclusion of the story of the gods at the beginning of each chapter. #mythologynerd

I really liked Raisa and her character. I think she has really good growth throughout the novel which seems like it should be difficult since she spent half the book being a tad bit annoying to me. I liked that she did what she felt she needed to to keep herself alive because I feel like a lot of the other slaves were rude to her because she was like a “higher order” slave and got to live in the palace. There were some interactions between the Resistance and Raisa that I thought were illogical because of how they were speaking to her. I did like her as a character and liked that even though she had issues with other girls in the book, she was still genuinely trying to be nice to them. I liked that there is the hinting of potential awesome female friendship in the next one because Raisa didn’t really interact with any female her age in this one that wasn’t a romantic problem.

However, I felt like Raisa lost her way any time Mati was around and while I understood it at the beginning because Young Love and all that jazz, when they View Spoiler » and that kind of irked me because I felt like we were FINALLY getting somewhere plot wise and that it was derailed for romance, which meh.

Speaking of the romance. I did like them together but I am always so cautious of slave-master relationships because they aren’t on equal footing and don’t have the same agency to enter into a relationship. So while Raisa might have thought she was at the same level as Mati or vice versa, they still weren’t? She was still his property so denying him sexual advances could have been problematic (if he had been anyone but Mati). But I don’t know. I feel like it didn’t really come up until their “break up” and that was an issue for me. I would have liked that to have been explored and unpacked a bit more. I don’t think that there was enough exploration of Raisa as a slave in general because she wasn’t the Typical Slave as I mentioned above, but rather she was Respected. It was a weird balance and I don’t think it quite worked for me.

However, I liked all the characters. All the secondary characters were really well written and explored. I thought that they all had their own motivations, personalities, etc. and I enjoyed every moment we got to spend with someone other than Raisa because they added such complexities to the plot, the world, and the narrative in general. I think it is definitely one of the better casts of characters I have read in a YA Fantasy novel in terms of secondary characters that don’t get their own POVs because I could easily identify who was to be trusted or not, etc. without over thinking things.

I thought the worldbuilding was pretty decent as well. This one pulled from Ancient civilizations like Greece and Rome and interwoved their stories, especially mythological ones, with something a little different. I thought that there could have been a bit more worldbuilding in terms of the mythos of the lands and the differences between the islands that Raisa was taken from and the land she was living in now. I thought the idea of different language was really cool, but that would have also meant different culture and myths and that aspect wasn’t really explored. I would have just liked a bit more diverse understanding of the world itself. But that can definitely come in the sequel.

I thought the pacing was a tad off at some points. We time skipped a lot since this book covered almost three years, if I understood correctly. It took away a bit of the plot and romance for me because we didn’t get to see some of the little nuances between them. I also thought that it made it a bit confusing for what was happening and when. Because the calendar dates weren’t the same as ours, it made it difficult for me to understand how much time had actually passed between some action sequences.

However, I actually do recommend this one. I did enjoy reading it and without the aforementioned problems, it would have been a five star read from me. I think that the next book should be pretty decent and I’m glad it is switching up POVs! I think if you are a fan of High Fantasy and interesting worlds, this is the book for you.


US Only: Signed copy of SWORD AND VERSE audiobook, open through Jan 31, 2017
International Only: SWORD AND VERSE swag pack including a bookmark with your name in the language of the gods, open through Jan 31, 2017.
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About Kathy MacMillan

Kathy MacMillan is a writer, American Sign Language interpreter, consultant, librarian, signing storyteller, and avowed Hufflepuff. Her debut young adult novel, Sword and Verse, explores questions of power and prejudice in an epic fantasy setting, and has been called “fascinating and unique” by National Book Award finalist Franny Billingsley. Kathy is the founder of The Sweet Sixteens (www.thesweet16s.com (http://www.thesweet16s.com/) ) debut group of 2016 middle grade and young adult authors, and serves as the co-Regional Advisor for the Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia Region of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is also the author of eight resource books for educators, librarians, and parents, including Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together (Huron Street Press, 2013). She lives near Baltimore, MD with her husband, son, and a cat named Pancake.

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