Court of Fives
Author: Kate Elliott
Information on series: First in Court of Fives trilogy
Audience: Teens, though some adults will enjoy as well
Rating (scale of 1-5, with 5 being highest): 4
TL;DR: A novel about presumptions, prejudice, and incredible athletic feats (think Ninja Warrior). A good mix of action and character-development that should appeal to dystopian fans, despite it's fantasy setting.
Longer review: If you love action-packed dystopian novels, especially those featuring rebellious teens in a battle against repressive societies, but you're feeling burned out on futuristic wastelands, this might be the book for you. Court of Fives is set in a world based in part on the societies of ancient Egypt, the Aztec empire, and ancient Rome. This is Elliott's first young adult novel, but she's written several popular series for adults.
I loved the setting, and the complex relationships between the different cultures. The city of Saryenia is ruled by a rigid class structure, where the elite are conquerors from a foreign empire (or refugees from an empire shattered by Civil War) and the commoners are the remnants of a once powerful, darker skinned native society. Intermarriage between the two groups is strictly forbidden, which puts the main character's, Jessamy's, family in a precarious position. Jessamy's father is an accomplished military commander, and her mother is a low born commoner, placing Jessamy and her sisters somewhere in between.
The story is told from Jessamy's perspective, as she struggles between her love for her family and her dreams to be a champion at the Fives, a dangerous sport similar to Ninja Warrior. If you're not sure what Ninja Warrior is, I recommend checking out this video. The fact that we see Jessamy's world so tightly from her perspective sets up some nice surprises later in the novel as we learn that Jessamy's assumptions about her sisters and their goals were not always based on truth.
There is a romantic sub-plot to the novel, and of course it is a forbidden romance. Some readers will enjoy the lack of a love triangle (at least in this first volume), but I found that the love story added a layer of distraction to a fairly packed plot. It's likely that, were I still a teen reader, I would've loved this element of the book, but as an adult, I was rolling my eyes.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: The big name action-packed dystopian novel, with a capable female lead on a quest to save her family.
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: Seraphina's incredible musical talents bring her to the attentions of the royal palace as murder and political intrigue threaten to collapse the fragile peace between humans and dragons. SPOILER ALERT: Everything becomes even more complicated as Seraphina realizes she is the child of a forbidden romance between a human and a dragon.
~Sarah, Carnegie-Stout Public Library