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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.
ARC received for review purposes in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Out of all the Harper Teen Winter 2016 books, Kathy MacMillan’s Sword and Verse was my most anticipated 2016 debut. The synopsis called to me with its mention of a kingdom where reading and writing is illegal. It sounded unique and a book brimming with a ton of potential. Sadly though, the execution of the story was faulty and Sword and Verse ended up disappointing me.
There’s a LOT that went wrong for me with Sword and Verse, but briefly, here are my main issues:
Number 1: The bland and insufferable characters
Anytime I read a book, for me to actually like the story, I need to enjoy the characters, especially the narrators. When I can’t see eye to eye with the character telling the story, then it’s trouble in paradise for us no matter how exciting or interesting the story is. Without any doubt, characters are THE most important elements in a book for me. In Sword and Verse, I didn’t care for any of the characters because they were flat, underdeveloped and caricatures of fantasy characters. From the protagonist, Raisa, to the villains, none of these characters were remotely given any kind of attention when it comes to past, growth and character-building. To me, they were just names on paper. We were told about these qualities Raisa had, but never truly shown them. Because of that, most of them just ended up being dull as dishwater and unmemorable in every way.
Number 2: Terrible TERRIBLE romance
Hate insta-love? Stay far far far away from Sword and Verse. I’m not one to usually vehemently hate on insta-love. But my goodness. The romance in Sword and Verse made me cringe with how uncomfortably fast it developed. By 20%, Raisa and her love interest, Prince Mati, have confessed their love for each other. By 25%, they’ve slept together. There was absolutely no build up, no chemistry to their relationship, which made the romance yet another boring and almost lifeless part of the story. It felt really sloppy, almost as if the author was told she needed to have a romance in her book when she didn’t want to and so she tried her best to get it over with as quickly as possible. For a romance reader like me, the romance was really really frustrating. When you’re sick and tired of the couple kissing (I swear Raisa and Mati kissed like EVERY freaking page – there is apparently something as too much kissing), you know the romance isn’t for you.
Number 3: Where’s the world building? Where’s the story? Really, where’s ANYTHING interesting?
As a fan of the written word, I was thrilled that Sword and Verse had all these cool Gods and symbols and a focus on literacy. That’s like everything I want out of a book! But I was clearly wrong because apparently there are ways to make an intriguing concept like that flat as a pancake. The world building in Sword and Verse was truly lacking, the story telling offering nothing fresh in the fantasy genre. It was disheartening because this is a book that had so much of unexplored potential. It could have been EPIC, but the execution was sadly not that great.
I’m sad that I disliked this book so much but there just wasn’t any part of Sword and Verse I was invested in. As an author, I think MacMillan has the creative juices and the potential, but perhaps she needs to work on her character development and pacing issues. I’m willing to give her a second chance if she ever does write another book in the future though.