In a sweeping fantasy that award-winning author Franny Billingsley called "fascinating and unique," debut author Kathy MacMillan weaves palace intrigue and epic world building to craft a tale for fans of Rae Carson and Megan Whalen Turner.
Raisa was just a child when she was sold into slavery in the kingdom of Qilara. Before she was taken away, her father had been adamant that she learn to read and write. But where she now lives, literacy is a capital offense for all but the nobility. The written language is closely protected, and only the King, Prince, Tutor, and Tutor-in-training are allowed to learn its very highest form. So when she is plucked from her menial labor and selected to replace the last Tutor-in-training, who was executed, Raisa knows that betraying any hint of her past could mean death.
Keeping her secret guarded is hard enough, but the romance that's been blossoming between her and Prince Mati isn't helping matters. Then Raisa is approached by the Resistance—an underground rebel army—to help liberate the city's 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.
Raisa has been a slave since childhood when the Qilarites raided the island where she grew up. All she has left is the heart verse that her father gave her and it is her dream to one day learn to read it. But learning to read and write is forbidden for slaves and she spends her time cleaning the palace library rather than reading. When a chance encounter with Prince Mati leads to her being tested to be a tutor in training, Raisa's fortunes start to change for the better. Just because she now has plenty to eat and better clothes and more freedom doesn't change the fact that she is still a slave however and the Resistance wants her to help them the way her late predecessor did. But Raisa has fallen in love with Mati and though she wants to help her people she also doesn't want to betray him.
Whenever I see a new book compared to something I love (in this case the novels of Rae Carson), I am skeptical but I was surprisingly pleased with this YA fantasy debut. I liked the main character and even though I was frustrated with her reticence over joining the Resistance, I could still understand why it was a difficult choice for her to make. I admired Raisa's determination to learn and the way she was still looking out for the child slaves in the palace. She isn't without flaws but she is a likable protagonist. While Prince Mati was nice, I kind of wished the romance was a little less prominent. Their relationship goes through ups and downs as they have to hide it and Mati is expected to marry someone suitable.
The novel had excellent worldbuilding and a detailed mythology. In between each chapter, there is a brief segment about the gods and how language was given to man. I found the mythology to be interesting and it is important to the story. I also liked the political intrigue. Things at court are definitely complicated with lots of plotting going on. In a way I was reminded of some other YA fantasy novels I've enjoyed like An Ember in the Ashes and The Winner's Curse and maybe just a hint of The Girl of Fire and Thorns. Another big plus is that the novel can be read as a standalone even though there will be a companion novel. I think readers who like YA fantasy and forbidden romance will enjoy Sword and Verse. Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss