Book Review: Buried Heart by Kate Elliott

30 Aug


All good things must come to an end, and with Buried Heart, author Kate Elliott brings to a conclusion the YA Court of Fives trilogy.

Talking about plot developments in the third and final volume of a trilogy is difficult and perhaps foolish to try, so I will instead discuss the essential theme of this volume, one that has been slowly surfacing through Court of Fives and Poisoned Blade, but here gets its full fulminating flowering: Revolution. In Buried Heart, Efea’s oppressed status, something that the author has been delineating from the very first chapter of Court of Fives, comes out in full force. Of course within the potential revolution of Efea against the tyranny that holds it is the struggle of powers around it, and the struggles of the current royal occupants to hold the throne against kin and family. The first two novels, which suggested that Jessamy, the Spider, would be subsumed into that dynamic entirely, prove to have been a false flag. In the third volume, Jess finds herself caught between father and mother, her lover and her land, and must make often difficult choices as the people of Efea struggle to reclaim their freedom.

The author also continues the themes of the first two novels, of growing up, of living and straddling both worlds, and of reaching for what what someone truly wants. The themes of the novel set tie into character much more than grand designs, and they and this third book complete Jess’ character arc wonderfully.  While the host of characters around her, her family members, the poet and of course the numerous citizens of Efea get character growth and development all around, Buried Heart, just like its previous two novels, with its first person point of view, keeps the focus tightly on Jess.

The Jess that emerges from the trials by the end of the his novel has grown, become an adult and has transformed herself, just as Efea itself has managed a remarkable transformation. Both Efea and Jess pay prices, internally and externally, to make that transformation. This IS a Kate Elliott book. Long before grimdark became a thing, the author was reacting and exploring and connecting to Epic Fantasy in ways that a certain big league author, who started this at the same time,  has taken all the credit and accolades and success for.  Elliott’s work is different than that author’s in that she focuses and grounds female characters, their lives, struggles, challenges, and essential nature in a man’s world in a way that many male and even some female authors are not willing or capable to do.

The novels are far brisker and less layered with crunchy worldbuilding than readers of Elliott’s epic fantasy are more likely to look for and expect. That’s okay in this YA space, as the focus on Jess allows for a rollercoaster of action and adventure, character and personal conflicts, that is a very fast and yet rich and rewarding read. Readers who want that Jess on a Fives Court action will get that in spades, and my favorite, the mechanical spiders, play a big part in the novel. The rich world building I wanted to sink into is not as deep here, and there is plenty I wanted to know lots and lots more about. However, the story doesn’t ever have the chance to flag or falter.

I honestly am excited for the new tools the author has learned in the writing of this series, and wonder how those tools will, if they do, translate to her more adult SFF in the future.

On that note, I followed the author from her epic fantasy into a realm of books that I do not read that often, Young Adult, YA. It was an intense and interesting experience to see how the author’s talents have created a YA trilogy. I do see the Court of Fives trilogy as an evolution and a branching out from the Spiritwalker (Cold Magic) series. That series was also from the first person perspective and also featured a relatively young protagonist, Cat, with a strong sisterly relationship with her cousin Bea, an uncertain relationship with a half-brother, a relationship with someone in power and authority, and a coming of age and into one’s own power story. That novel and series was not written for and not aimed at a YA market, although, now looking at Buried Heart and the Court of Fives series, the connections seem obvious. I think that YA readers who are interested in Kate Elliott’s other work who liked the Court of Fives series would do well by diving into that series, more so than her more usual multiple POV widescreen epic fantasy, next.

There is going to be a YA award at next year’s Hugo’s (although, in the manner of the Campbell Award, it is Not a Hugo). Not only is Buried Heart going to be on my ballot for the YA award, the entire Court of Fives series is a strong contender for my ballot for Best Series. And it goes without saying that as always, I am intrigued and eager to see what next comes from the pen of one of the best SFF authors writing today.

Kiss off, Adversary!  I salute Kate Elliott for gaining the victor’s ribbon once again.


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