Buried Heart: Forced to pick a side

Reposting to include Rebecca’s new review.

Buried Heart by Kate Elliott young adult fantasy book reviewsBuried Heart by Kate Elliott fantasy book reviewsBuried Heart by Kate Elliott

In Night Flower, Kiya and Esladas met and fell in love, beginning a journey that would, eventually, shake the city of Saryenia to its very foundation. In Court of Fives, their daughter Jessamy got her heart’s desire, the chance to train as a Court of Fives runner, at the cost of her family’s safety. In Poisoned Blade, Jes did everything she could to reunite her loved ones while rooting out royal corruption, but it wasn’t enough. In Bright Thrones, Jes’ twin Bettany put her depthless anger to good use and gave new purpose to her life. In Buried Heart (2017), the concluding volume of the COURT OF FIVES series, Kate Elliott puts the spotlight back on Jes and the vital part she must play in the revolution tearing Saryenia in half.

Mild spoilers for previous books and novellas may be inevitable, though spoilers for Buried Heart will be kept to an absolute minimum.

The Efean rebellion is fully underway as Buried Heart begins; Jes, a few of her siblings, and her mother are in flight from King Nikonos’ forces, who are hunting Lord Garon and Lord Kalliarkos (and gleefully killing anyone who appears to support them). Saryenia is in chaos, and there’s nowhere in the city for the Efean rebels who follow Kiya to hide. Jessamy’s father, General Esladas, is engaged in battle against invading forces from East Saro. Kal and the poet Ro-emnu are each actively engaged in the rebellion, though as a high-born Saroese noble and a notorious Efean revolutionary, the consequences of either defeat or victory will be drastically different for each young man.

Jes is caught between them, unable to clearly say which side of this battle she can throw her full weight behind. As much as she can see the injustice of the current social order, she isn’t accepted by either group and doesn’t feel that she can ever truly be accepted into either Saroese or Efean culture. Considering how little patience I have for either insta-love or love triangles, I was shocked by the device Elliott employs to strip away Jes’ indecision and force her into making a choice, and the sacrifices Jes must ultimately make in order to guarantee success for her chosen side. In the previous two novels, Jes experienced some hardships as a result of shifts in the balance of power, but was always able to rely on her elevated status as a renowned Fives runner to keep herself out of the worst of it. This time, however, no such saving grace is forthcoming, and Jes isn’t allowed the luxury of looking away from what life as an Efean under Saroese rule is really like. It’s a chilling and all-too-realistic series of chapters, and the sequence is ultimately crucial not only to Jes’ choices but the greater struggle for control over Saryenia.

With each installment in the COURT OF FIVES series, Elliott has gradually increased the tension surrounding Jes, showing the reader what’s at stake should Efea rise or fall, and increasing the commitment to their chosen cause displayed by her family and allies. By leaving Jes indecisive for so long, Elliott leaves her open to criticism and derision from those same allies and family members, but also from readers who are eager to see Jes just make a choice already. I think Elliott made the right decision in leaving Jes conflicted for so long, especially because she’s set up for some rude awakenings, but also because it can be so difficult to know what the right course of action is in real-life situations, and good fiction takes its cues from the real world rather than making everything easy.

Culture, history, language, and climate are as fully-realized as the political power plays in Buried Heart, and just as essential to the plot’s progression as individual character contributions. Elliott balances these factors well, continuing to allow peeks at a larger and in-depth world beyond the city’s walls, and by including mentions of troop movements and skirmishes against outlying Saroses forces, we get a sense for just how fractured and damaged the ruling class is, and how overdue this rebellion is. The human toll of a rebellion is treated honestly, as well, though the ultimate conclusion wasn’t what I expected (in both positive and negative terms).

Elliott asks a lot of her characters and her readers, but the end result is worthwhile, and of the three books and two novellas, I had the strongest emotional reaction to Buried Heart. Overall, COURT OF FIVES is powerful, engaging, and thought-provoking, and I strongly recommend the entire series.

~Jana Nyman


Buried Heart by Kate Elliott fantasy book reviewsThe third and final book in Kate Elliott’s COURT OF FIVES trilogy is a conclusion worthy of its predecessors. For the past two books Jessamy has been playing a dangerous game of political intrigue and athletic sportsmanship; using her skills as a contender in the popular Court of Fives competition to work the fermenting uprising of the Efean people to her advantage.

However, she’s in a more precarious position than most. Although the Efeans are more than ready to overthrow the Saroese Empire that’s been subjecting them for generations, Jessamy is not only half Efean and half Patron (with a father who serves as general in the Saroese army) but in love with the Saroese Prince who’s next in line to the throne. Does she side with her people or her family?

Elliott has crafted a complex plot that demands difficult decisions be made of its protagonist, and Jessamy is constantly on her toes when it comes to outwitting Lord Gargaron, the ruthless and ambitious man who threatens her family should she not comply with his wishes. It’s always a great joy to watch Jessamy continue to wriggle her way out of impossible situations, often by the skin of her teeth.

That’s not to say there aren’t consequences to her actions, and in this particular volume things can get especially grim. Injuries, both internal and external, aren’t healed overnight, and some things must change permanently if Jessamy is to reach her intended goal.

Although there are some romantic complications, Jessamy is refreshingly realistic about what she owes them and how there are more pressing issues at hand. (Let’s face it, you don’t see that enough in YA novels, with too many insisting that being with your boyfriend is the be-all, end-all of the protagonist’s life).

And the world-building is as strong as ever, with plenty of original flourishes tied in with real-life historical precedence (what Elliott does with the concept of a scapegoat is very clever, and explains why so many characters used the term: “great goat!” whenever they were surprised or exasperated).

Although Buried Heart ends on a bittersweet note that’s more sweet than bitter (I would have preferred a more ambiguous resolution to a certain character’s fate) it’s a fitting conclusion to Jessamy’s story, completing a revolution that explored themes of racism, colonisation, oppression, class, gender politics and other hefty issues — all in a nuanced and intelligent manner.

~Rebecca Fisher

Published in June 2017. The heart-pounding finale to World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s captivating, New York Times bestselling young adult series–now available in paperback! Choose between your parents. Choose between your friends. Choose between your lovers. Choose who you are. On the run from the murderous King Nikonos, Jessamy must find a way for her beloved Kalliarkos to take his rightful place on the throne. Only then can he end the oppression of the Commoners by their long time Patron overlords. But Kal’s rise to power is fraught with manipulation and shocking decisions that make Jes question everything they promised each other. As their relationship frays and Jes’s family and friends beg her for help, will she cast Kal and her Patron heritage aside? Will she finally join–even lead–the rebellion that had been burning among the Commoners for years? This explosive finale of World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s Court of Five series forces Jessamy to confront an inescapable truth: with or without her, the revolution has begun.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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6 comments

  1. I am definitely going to have to start reading this series!

    • As far as I know, there aren’t any further novels/novellas forthcoming, so if you’re the type of reader who likes to binge a series from start to finish, you can definitely do that with COURT OF FIVES. I think you, Marion, would really like the social-justice aspects of the series in particular.

  2. Sounds great, Jana! Even though I really enjoyed Court of Fives, I let the rest of the series lapse. Sounds like I need to pick it up again!

  3. Krystall /

    These sound fantastic!

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