“Life doesn’t give us what we want. It gives us what we need and asks what we will do with it.”
Nothing is as it seems in the kingdom of Antora. Kestra Dallisor has spent three years in exile in the Lava Fields, but that won’t stop her from being drawn back into her father’s palace politics. He’s the right hand man of the cruel king, Lord Endrick, which makes Kestra a valuable bargaining chip. A group of rebels knows this all too well — and they snatch Kestra from her carriage as she reluctantly travels home.The kidnappers want her to retrieve the lost Olden Blade, the only object that can destroy the immortal king, but Kestra is not the obedient captive they expected. Simon, one of her kidnappers, will have his hands full as Kestra tries to foil their plot, by force, cunning, or any means necessary. As motives shift and secrets emerge, both will have to decide what — and who — it is they’re fighting for.
Will you play a game if you know the players consist of traitors?
The Traitor’s Game is a foundation of a new fantasy series from Jennifer A. Nielsen, which follow Kestra and Simon as they both play a game they are not sure how to win or if the sacrifices are worth the prize.
From the title itself, I expected lots of lies, betrayals and scheming from the plot, especially with Nielsen’s behind the writing. For those who have read her previous fantasy series, The Ascendance trilogy, you understand what I’m saying for sure. Nielsen is the master creator of one of the smartest and cunning fictional character in the middle grade fiction, Jaron. Then meeting the main character of The Traitor’s Game for the first time, and knowing her situation and relation to the Kingdom, I imagine Kestra Dallisor to be playing a complicated game of politics and alliances, like Kestrel in Marie Rutkoski’ss The Winner’s trilogy.
Though this new fantasy series is not exactly what I expected, it is still a welcome addition to the genre. In The Traitor’s Game, Jennifer Nielsen use simple yet proven formula in writing fantasy, which somehow make the story of The Traitor’s Game overly familiar, especially since I have read many fantasy books before this one. There’s the tyrant ruler with magical power, unloving father, rising rebellion, classes divisions, and magical dagger. But in-spite of the familiarity, The Traitor’s Game still manage to pull some surprises. And when it does, readers will realized that it is more complex than what they initially thought. So by using the same proven formula, The Traitor’s Game is also a success.
The dual point of view narration between Kestra and Simon is distinctive and engaging. I had no problem distinguishing the voice between the two characters. Even without checking the header, I know right away who is talking. Not only they have different narrative style, but also different way of seeing things and situations.
Kestra is determined, daring and smart. To save those who serves her, she needs to outsmart not only the rebels but also the tyrant and powerful Emperor whom his father serves loyally. She is all-in when it comes to removing the Emperor to his power, but she doesn’t know if the rebels can be trusted. So without knowing who to trust and not to trust, Kestra has to rely on her own self. She needs to be smart in every move she will make and equally cunning.
The characters relationship either between Kestra and Simon, or Kestra and Trina feels a bit underdeveloped, but never the less fun to read. Though I’m not a fun of quick attraction or insta-love as they call it, in this one it’s no big deal for me. Given that Kestra and Simon has previous life together, I’ll forgive the connections that comes few days after meeting again. But the animosity between Trina and Kestra, that’s a different case. Trina’s character sometimes fall messy. The hot-and-cold treatment she give to Kestra is quite confusing. Clearly she’s not someone to trust fully, but still there are times when I find myself hoping she’s one of the good guys, and wish to understand her better.
Centered from a character who is a pawn, a player and a hero, this new fantasy series from Jennifer A. Nielsen will surely enjoy by the author’s followers.
The Traitor’s Game is a tale of courage and a bit of romance, a story of power and those who play the game of power. Will definitely continue reading the next installment.
* This review is based on an ARC received from the publisher, Scholastic Press Philippines in exchange for my honest opinion about the book.