“One does not entreat the gods through shouted prayers or offerings, but through their greatest gift to us: writing.” Doesn’t this line give you chills? Let’s discuss the upcoming release by first-time author Kathy MacMillan, Sword and Verse, after the jump.
From the book flap:
| 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.
Overall: Grab a glass of wine and settle in because I have already covered my favorite line of this novel.
To put it simply, Sword and Verse is like this scene from Clueless.
I honestly tried to love this book. I really TRIED, which is why I kept reading, even past the point where I knew I wasn’t going to finish it. So, I will begin breaking it down for you by telling you the things I enjoyed and most looked forward to when I picked up this book.
- Themes of literacy and universal access to education. I picked up this novel from a pile of ARCs a few months ago because of the description on the book flap. YES to an open education for all members of society. YES to the downfall of slavery. YES to the little written about subject of literacy. Let’s. Do. This.
- Language. I was very interested in the Language of the Gods and MacMillan didn’t disappoint. A self-described linguist, McMillan thoughtfully and thoroughly constructed The Language of the Gods. Her writing and description of the language and its letters, the phonetic nuances, made me want to take a course and learn to write it myself. She didn’t make her descriptions of language boring or tedious. I believe language was her most beloved character of this novel. Well, done, Ms. MacMillan.
- Setting. I love a historical setting. I love a foreign setting. Set in ancient times, I was thrilled that we may get a look at a fantastical culture rooted in the Middle East. Also, let’s get excited for diverse YA in 2016, shall we?
Unfortunately, the list of things I didn’t like about the book far exceeded the list above. The writing is the main culprit and I cover that in depth in “Me Talk Pretty” and “Just. Why.” below. However, other issues included:
- The world building I anticipated never happens. I should have guessed we weren’t going to delve into Qilara when there wasn’t a map presented at the beginning of the novel and, unfortunately, that’s what precisely what happened. Not that maps are a necessity in books about made-up ancient cultures, but they certainly do help in setting you there psychologically. Not only wasn’t there adventure, but Raisa was essentially essentially into the stale interior of the castle. *YAWN* What’s the point of the setting, the language, the sweeping descriptions of the lands, if the characters aren’t going to travel and experience the world? The words are just WASTED.
- Insta-Love. You will hear me say this a million times, but I LOVE A GREAT LOVE STORY. I have called science fiction novels love stories just because the romance has swept my away. However, the relationship between Raisa and Mati kind of pops out of nowhere and should be hot (it’s forbidden after all), but just manages to maintain a tepid warmth. Frankly, they’re the most boring forbidden love story I’ve ever read and I was not compelled by it in the slightest by either of them.
Judge a Book by its Cover: I like the cover quite a bit. It looks like an 80’s heavy metal record cover. I give it two thumbs up.
Me Talk Pretty: As I stated earlier, MacMillan is a self-described linguist, a master of languages. However, she could not seem to form sentences, paragraphs or scenes into any sort of cohesive story that I could possibly be compelled to care anything about. Her writing style was robotic, like she was writing a first person account of daily events, which was interrupted by random dialogue that did not further the story. Subsequently, the events portrayed felt stunted and ineffectual to the story.
This ‘technique’, in turn, made the characters extremely flat. I could not tell you the difference between the characters of Mati, Linti, Kiti, Liyonea, Raisa, or Jonis because neither the way MacMillan wrote them, nor anything about her descriptions of them or their dialogue were memorable or connected with me as a reader. Therefore, as the drama unfolded, I just shrugged my shoulders.
The biggest culprit in the writing is that it seemed that MacMillan couldn’t qualify the characters or emotions. A specific example:
Dialog (typical of about 300 sentences I read in this novel): “I love you Raisa…no matter what happens, I will always love you.”
A few lines later this exposition: “Afterward, Mati stroked my hair and murmured things that made me want to weep.”
So, what did Mati say to make Raisa want to weep? Was it more creative than “I love you?” If so, please remove all “I love you’s” from this novel and replace with one or two heart-stopping, lip quivering lines about his feelings. No? You’re just going to go with “I love you’s?” OK.
Audiobook Narration: While I didn’t listen to the audio book, here’s a preview.
Just. Why. As a self-proclaimed lover of romance, I can assure you that it IS possible to write the words LOVE and KISS too much. I don’t mind when these things happen in books. In fact, I require frequent loving and kissing in most of my novels (or wish for it, anyway). But when these same two words are written 2-3 times per page, EVERY SINGLE PAGE, I wonder what the editors were thinking
An example page from the novel: LOVE. KISS. LOVE. KISS. KISSING. LOVE. LOVING. KISSING. x384 pages
The editors really missed the mark on this one. I believe they were otherwise occupied.
Open tab/Last call: Goodreads describes Sword and Verse as Book #1 of a series, but, as of this writing, there is no other book listed following it. If there was a sequel, my fridge would be have to be stocked like so for me to want to crack it open.