Book Review

The Reader

The Reader

  • Author: Traci Chee
  • Genre: YA Fantasy
  • Publication Date: September 13, 2016
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
  • Series: Sea of Ink and Gold #1

CONTENT WARNING: blood, death of a parent, violence, torture, murder, gun violence, slavery, trauma

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once there was, and one day there will be. This is the beginning of every story.

Sefia lives her life on the run. After her father is viciously murdered, she flees to the forest with her aunt Nin, the only person left she can trust. They survive in the wilderness together, hunting and stealing what they need, forever looking over their shoulders for new threats. But when Nin is kidnapped, Sefia is suddenly on her own, with no way to know who’s taken Nin or where she is. Her only clue is a strange rectangular object that once belonged to her father, something she comes to realize is a book.

Though reading is unheard of in Sefia’s world, she slowly learns, unearthing the book’s closely guarded secrets, which may be the key to Nin’s disappearance and discovering what really happened the day her father was killed. With no time to lose, and the unexpected help of swashbuckling pirates and an enigmatic stranger, Sefia sets out on a dangerous journey to rescue her aunt, using the book as her guide. In the end, she discovers what the book had been trying to tell her all along: Nothing is as it seems, and the end of her story is only the beginning.

First of all, this book is set in basically my worst nightmare — a world where people don’t read or have any access to books. Naturally, this will NOT be making it onto any of my “desired locations to visit in fantasy books” lists. Fortunately, the story was incredibly engrossing.

I liked Sefia’s character right from the start. She’s a street-smart kid (yeah, when you’re my age basically everyone is a kid) who has experienced more loss than anyone should. She only has one person left in the world that she cares about, and one belonging that is important to her — a book, which belonged to her parents. However, since her society doesn’t really have books … or reading … she isn’t quite sure what it is or what to do with it. Fortunately, her mother had taught her some of the basics of reading before passing away, without explicitly stating that is what she was doing, so Sefia quickly learned how to read. Which opened up a whole new world for her:

“It was as if, all this time, she’d been locked out, catching glimpses of some magical world through the crack beneath a door. But the book was the key, and if she could figure out how to use it, she’d be able to open the door, uncovering the magic that lay, rippling and shifting in unseen currents, beyond the world she experienced with her ears and tongue and fingertips.”

The world comes with a pretty cool magic system, which I felt was explained pretty well. Considering that one of the main characters didn’t really even understand the system that she was using, the other characters made up the difference a little better. There was a definite cost to the magic, and it was really interesting. 

The story had a range of characters, but they were introduced slowly enough for me to get accustomed to them and really feel like I got to know them. I was absolutely blown away by how all the seemingly different threads of the characters managed to interest. The plot twists were so surprising, although there was one that I saw coming. However, for the most part, I consistently struggled to see what was coming. And although the ending didn’t quite wrap things up, it still left me with a sense of satisfaction … and the overwhelming desire to rush out and grab the next book.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 12

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