The Traitor’s Game (The Traitor’s Game #1) by Jennifer A. Nielsen

“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.

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Personal Thoughts:

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.

The Scourge by Jennifer A. Nielsen


“Because they don’t know us, and we don’t know them… It’s easy to hate what you don’t understand.”

When a plague isn’t all that kills…

As a lethal plague sweeps through the land, Ani Mells is shocked when she is unexpectedly captured by the governor’s wardens and forced to submit to a test for the deadly Scourge. She is even more surprised when the test results come back positive, and she is sent to Attic Island, a former prison turned refuge—and quarantine colony—for the ill. The Scourge’s victims, Ani now among them, can only expect to live out short, painful lives there.

However, Ani quickly discovers that she doesn’t know the whole truth about the Scourge or the Colony. She’s been caught in a devious plot, and, with the help of her best friend, Weevil, Ani means to uncover just what is actually going on. But will she and Weevil survive the Scourge—and the gorvernor’s wardens—long enough to make their escape and expose the cruel plan?

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Personal Thoughts:

Jennifer Nielsen’s The Ascendance Trilogy is a favorite middle grade series novel of mine. So every book written by her is a must read for me, with the hope to meet another character to admire and adore like Sage.

In this book, Jennifer Nielsen introduce readers to a female protagonist, Ani Mells. Ani is one of the River People who live far away from Keldan. She is strong-willed and stubborn which often gets her in trouble. When two of the Governor’s warden arrest her to undergo the scourge test, Ani end up positive. Soon after she was sent to an island as prisoner together with other scourge victim.

“They knew the world that came out of books, but we knew the world that went into them.”

Ani Mells as the main character is fun to follow. She is strong-willed, defiant and snarky. Her mischievous personality makes The Scourge so much fun to read. Add the company of her loyal friend, Weevil, these two just don’t know when to stop their misadventures. Even at times when Weevil is actually trying to help Ani, they still end up in more troubles. It’s like Ani is made for disaster, and no one can help it, not even Weevil who only wants what’s best for his best friend.

The only mild complaint with this book is the simplicity/predictability of the plot. Having read Jennifer Nielsen’s other book, especially the The Ascendance Trilogy wherein plot twist and turns are spot on I didn’t expect this new novel to be easily predictable. But considering that the target audience of this book are younger readers, I guess the simplicity of the story won’t be an issue. The story is still entertaining nonetheless.

Overall, Jennifer A Nielsen’s latest novel, The Scourge is an entertaining and quick read. If you like adventure or misadventure, snarky characters or just looking for a short fun read then this one is for you.

* This review is based on a copy I received courtesy of the publisher, Scholastic Press Philippines in exchange for an honest opinion.

Mark of the Thief by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Mark of the ThiefWhen Nic, a slave in the mines outside of Rome, is forced to enter a sealed cavern containing the lost treasures of Julius Caesar, he finds much more than gold and gemstones: He discovers an ancient bulla, an amulet that belonged to the great Caesar and is filled with a magic once reserved for the Gods — magic some Romans would kill for.

Now, with the deadly power of the bulla pulsing through his veins, Nic is determined to become free. But instead, he finds himself at the center of a ruthless conspiracy to overthrow the emperor and spark the Praetor War, a battle to destroy Rome from within. Traitors and spies lurk at every turn, each more desperate than the next to use Nic’s newfound powers for their own dark purposes.

In a quest to stop the rebellion, save Rome, and secure his own freedom, Nic must harness the magic within himself and defeat the empire’s most powerful and savage leaders.

Personal Thoughts:

Jennifer A. Nielsen’s Acsendence Trilogy is a favorite middle grade fantasy series of mine. I devoured every pages of those books appreciating Jennifer A. Nielsen’s writing by simply creating one of the most smart and cunning character I have ever met in middle grade fiction, Sage/Jaron. Jaron easily added to my list of favorite characters together with other thieves like Eugenides of The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner, and Neal Caffrey of White Collar TV series. So just imagine what my reaction is when I found out that Jennifer has a new series coming out with a thief for a leading character.

Mark of the Thief is a historical fantasy set in one of the most historically rich place on earth, Ancient Rome. The protagonist, Nic a slave mining outside Rome was forced to go underground to find a bulla that once belonged to Julius Caesar. Nick isn’t eager to do the task because previous miners who went deep into the mine for treasures are either dead or lost their sanity. But without so much choice in the matter, Nic go down and there he find not only Julius Caesar’s golden bulla but other treasure of golds and a griffin guarding it. After some stunts with the griffin, Nic managed to get hold of the bulla and escaped the mine with the griffin before the mine collapsed. His escaped doesn’t last though, because he was later recaptured and was sent back to his master, Sal who later sold him. Before reaching the mines, he also met one of the Romans’ senator Valerius and his son Crispus who informed him that the griffin left a mark on his back and not just a scar like what Nic assumed. A mark that Nic must hide as well as the bulla in order to protect himself from powerful people and savage leaders who will do anything to get their hands on Caesar’s long lost property and its power.

The setting alone makes Mark of the Thief a worth read. Ancient Rome in this novel has a life of its own that you can count it as one of the characters adding more dynamic to the story. Rome is so rich and full of history which the author cleverly use along with her fictional world. Jennifer A. Nielsen’s description of Rome and everything that is happening inside it feels like real history, as if her characters actually lived during those era and we are just reading a new story that was never been told before.

Jennifer A. Nielsen’s writing is as strong as her style in The Ascendance Trilogy. Her plotting skill is top notch making Mark of the Thief a thrilling and engrossing read.

Right from the first page readers will get intrigued with the leading character Nic with his quick-witted mouth and tough personality. Though he isn’t much a plotter like Jennifer’s previous character Jaron, Nic can still win every readers attention. He has his own brand of charm which mostly consist of his stubbornness and high self-esteem. His constant danger situation makes the book thrilling and suspenseful.

Comparing Nic to Jaron is not fair but like other readers of Jennifer A. Nielsen’s works I can’t help but do the same because lets face it, Jennifer previous lead character Jaron is what makes The Ascendance Trilogy so much a hit. Readers of The Ascendance Trilogy love the brilliant, quick-witted and multi-layered Sage/Jaron. He is simply unforgettable. Jennifer successfully weaved a wonderful character in him that I can’t help but hope that her next lead character is as good as Jaron. But unfortunately, Nic fall short. Though Nic is as quick-witted and tough he is not as clever as Jaron. Jaron is a plotter, someone who is always three or more steps ahead in the game, he knows the rules and he can even rewrite them if he thinks it will favor him or his goal. While Nic on the other hand is not a strategist, he has no idea of how to save his own self, the people he care, much less save a whole empire of Ancient Rome. I think a battle between these two, Jaron will surely win even with Nic’s magical power.

But don’t get discourage because even Nic is no Jaron his story is as interesting as others Jeniffer’s books. As I’ve said above, the presence of Ancient Rome alone is a worth reading, throw some adventure, political intrigue, magical amulet, legendary creature and mythology there so much to love in this first installment of Praetor War series. I myself is excited to find out how Jennifer will weave those intricate details of political war, mythology and adventure into a bigger plot.

Overall, Mark of the Thief is a wonderful start to a new fantasy story from Jennifer A. Nielsen. With its historically rich and beautiful setting, ingenious plot and beautiful writing Jennifer Nielsen successfully deliver a new fantasy series to follow. Fans of The Ascendence Trilogy will surely enjoy this new offering from the master plotter herself.

*This review is based on a copy I received courtesy of the publisher, Sholastic Press Philippines in exchange for an honest opinion.