Being an avid bookworm myself (I know, I know, obvious statement) I’m always attracted to books about words. And Sword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan hugely features words, scrolls, writing, and libraries! I mean, what is not to love here?! Plus it’s a YA epic fantasy with exquisite world building and a cover that is just edible. You know it is. Just look at that majesty.
The story follows Raisa who is a slave in the palace and in training to become a Tutor. In this world, writing and reading are absolutely sacred. So only the royalty, high class, and priests are really allowed to do it. And the only reason Raisa learns is so one day she’ll become teacher to future kings. But since she currently is learning the thousands and thousands of symbols with the crown princes….well. Things don’t stay platonic between them for long. It’s an adorable and winning “forbidden romance” with tons of risks and sacrifice. Add in some rebels, grim punishments, and stolen kisses in a library and you have this marvellous novel.
It is very heavily centred on romance. Normally I wince at this because I prefer more action to a story. But the romance was not only gorgeously done, but I felt myself rooting for Raisa and Prince Mati the whole time! Every feeling they had for each other was a huge risk. And not only that, Raisa was pressured by the rebels, technically her people, to help them. So betray her people vs betray the boy she loves. It really won me over and made my usually unromantic heart beat a little faster. Bless it
I also loved the world building! It features gods and temples and slaves and masters. The entire world is built around writing being so scared. And the actual aesthetics of the world felt dusty and maybe Roman (or Grecian?) influenced. The king’s people were pretty horrendous masters to their slaves and the book talks very severely about oppression and brutality. Although it doesn’t get graphic. The violence mostly happens off-page. I prefer dark fantasy so this did annoy me a little, but it’d be perfect for people who don’t like violent books.
As for the characters? I thoroughly enjoyed them! I’m just going to pretend Raisa wasn’t an entirely whining, naive popsicle…because that was the only downside of the story for me! I can’t understand how she could be a slave most of her life and yet be so incredibly naive and blind? She’s having a passionate fling with the prince. And yet gets shocked when things go wrong. Come now, woman. But that aside, I entirely loved how Raisa doesn’t fall into any Special Snowflake Tropes and she’s also very kindhearted, which is nice.
I also loved the secondary characters. Including Mati, the future-king, who is really tender hearted and anti-violence but also has little power against his horrible father. And I adored Jonis, who’s one of the rebels, and is a sneering scarred precious little cinnamon roll. And don’t worry: no love triangle here. I’m so happy this book proved that a protagonist can exist and not fall in love with every male in the room. WOOO! I also adored 5-year-old Jera, who’s the next Tutor-in-training and was just so adorable.
The plot doesn’t roar along with tons of excitement, but it is intriguing. I felt totally engaged! Despite it being mostly…kissing. There is also stabbing and explosions and plots and spying. Not to mention libraries where you could be killed for entering. Good times.
I had a lot of fun diving into the world of Sword and Verse! The romance was adorable, the world-building amazing, and it wrapped up quite satisfyingly so that it could almost be a standalone! (Apparently there is a sequel coming in 2018 though.) I’m impressed and my little book loving heart beats very fiercely with affection for this novel.