Book Review

The Speaker

The Speaker

  • Author: Traci Chee
  • Genre: YA Fantasy
  • Publication Date: November 7, 2017
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
  • Series: The Reader Trilogy #2

CONTENT WARNING: violence, blood, murder, gore, gun violence, outing of a trans character, trauma, death of a child, cancer, suicide, grief

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Five days have passed since Sefia and Archer escaped the Guard, since they learned the awful truth about Sefia’s parents and shared one unforgettable kiss. Hiding in the Delienean forest, Sefia and Archer tend to their wounds while they desperately plan their next move. They don’t have much time—the Guard is coming, and they will stop at nothing until they have Sefia, the Book and Archer back in their clutches.

His memory and voice now restored, Archer is haunted by terrible nightmares of his time with the impressors, memories that feed his desires for vengeance and birth a vow to hunt every last one and free all the boys they hold captive.

Together, Archer and Sefia travel across Delete battling impressors and rescuing boys—soldiers to follow Archer into battle. But with each victory, Archer’s thirst for violence only grows, transforming him from the gentle boy Sefia loves to a coldhearted killer. In turn, Sefia is consumed with the Book’s many secrets…about her parents, the Guard and their plans for Archer. Could he be the boy from the legends? The one destined to die in a bloody war? What the Book finally reveals leaves Sefia with no other choice…she will protect Archer at all costs. Even if it means losing the only person left to love her.

This is such an underrated series, and even though I haven’t finished it yet, I’m really loving it. It’s dark and brutal, centering on a group of teens who have been exposed to violence and traumatized by it, but it also focuses on some series emotional content, like loss, grief, guilt, shame, and how people cope with trauma in their own ways.

It’s beautifully diverse, with the fantasy world being a mash-up of people of different appearances and skin tones, all living in a wonderful coexistence. There are LGBTQ people well-represented in the story as well, with queer people being fully accepted, and even gay or bisexual people in the highest levels of power without any issue, and while there is a trans character who is accepted as a girl, she is forcibly outed as a boy when her life is in jeopardy from the impressors, who were killing the girls and forcing the boys to fight for their lives. Once she was freed, her feelings and identity were validated, and she was given the space to discuss the experience when she was ready. I loved her character, and loved that she was so fluidly incorporated into the story, even back in 2017, when this was written.

After the shocking revelations in The Reader, I was so ready to see how Sefia and Archer moved forward from there. They both struggle a lot, but in very different ways.

Sefia is facing the reality that the parents who she loved so much and misses intensely were behind the destruction and harm that she sees, especially in Archer, who is basically the only person that she has left in the world. She loves him, and wants to fix not only the evil that her parents have unleashed, but she’s also dealing with a lot of misplaced guilt, since she has seen a different side of her parents, and obviously doesn’t stop loving them even though she now knows that they have done some truly awful things. Sefia is now realizing that there’s so much that she didn’t know about her parents, which has only recently been revealed by the Book.

“She couldn’t reverse the damage her parents had done. But maybe, if she stopped enough impressors, if she saved enough boys, she could make up for their mistakes.”

Archer is dealing with an entirely different kind of issue. When Sefia originally rescued him, his voice and memories were blocked off as a result of his trauma. At the end of the last book, the events changed this and he was not only able to speak, he was also able to access his memories. All of them. And he’s buckling under the weight. 

“Sometimes he felt like the dead would always be with him, hounding his steps, forcing him to keep moving, keep fighting, because if he tried to turn back, the dead would be all he saw.”

He’s struggling with survivor’s guilt. Although he was forced to be violent and kill in order to survive, it unlocked something inside him. It’s something he’s especially skilled at, and although he’s now using that talent for good, he’s also conflicted because the more he behaves violently, the more guilt and pain he feels for it. He begins craving the violence and actually wanting to be violent. And as he starts turning that violence toward the impressors, he collects a crew of rescued boys (and one girl) who are willing to follow him, effectively making the prophecy appear to be coming true. Meanwhile, all he wants to do is feel like he is worthy of going back home and returning to the life he was meant to have.

“But now, maybe they could save enough boys to make up for the ones they’d killed. Maybe they could save enough boys, and maybe when they were done, they’d deserve to go home again.”

Along with all of this, Sefia and Archer are being hunted by the Guard. They have plans for not just Sefia and Archer, they have plans for the whole kingdom, which were originally set in place by Sefia’s parents. Plans that they’re still working towards, and that Sefia and Archer are the key to either making come true or disrupting, without even realizing. Interspersed with this overarching narrative are passages from the Book, sharing stories from the past, the present, and the future, which were absolutely fascinating. Seeing how far the reach of the Guard is was another intriguing aspect, allowing us to realize how everything will come together, along with the captain and the crew of the Current of Faith. I’m now dying to read the last book to see how everything winds up. 

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: 14

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