In a world where relations between two distinct classes of Patrons and Commoners are tense, Jessamy and her family are stuck in the middle. Her father is a Patron who married a Commoner, a rare occurrence, and stayed faithful to her, which is unheard of. Jessamy has three sisters, Maraya, the eldest who has a deformed foot and wants to be an Archivist, Amaya, the youngest, who dreams of poetry and marriage, and Bettany, Jessamy’s twin sister who is prone to moods and, as part of twins, is suspected to be cursed. Lastly, there’s Jes, who is not quite the son her father wanted and longs to run the Fives, an arena race where contestants journey through 5 varied courses each valuing different skill sets to win. It is the ultimate test of athleticism and glory in their kingdom. Jessamy had been planning to finally be able to run in the upcoming Fives race, but her father, a decorated military leader, returns home from war and is honored by being asked to watch the Fives with his liege lord. Jessamy is faced with a choice–to sit by and let her one chance at greatness go or expose her family to ridicule, as her father would never live down the shame of his mixed-class daughter competing in so public an arena.
Risking her father’s reputation, her mother and unborn child’s safety, and her sisters’ livelihoods and dreams, Jes runs the race brilliantly, managing to purposefully lose in the final bit to another gifted boy and young lord, Kalliarkos. In the aftermath, her father’s lord suddenly dies and they are left to founder without his protection. Lord Gargaron, Kalliarkos’s slippery uncle, makes a deal with Jes’s father to put aside his wife and family to be married to Kal’s sister, have more power in the military, and only if Jes runs for Gargaron’s stable in the Fives. Unable to see any other choice, Jes’s father agrees and Jes is sundered from her family, whom she only glimpses in a funereal procession for the former lord.
In her new status as a real Fives Adversary, Jes excels along with Kal, but she quickly realizes Lord Gargaron has not kept his word to keep her family safe–he has instead trapped them alive in a tomb to starve. Jes and Kal must secretly save her family and return to run the Fives before Gargaron finds out or her whole family dies.
This fantasy was so good! I cannot wait for the sequel! I definitely did not expect to like this book as much as I did. It was compelling and action-filled. The characters were engaging. I loved Jes and Kal the best. This was a pretty clean read except for the bit about Kal pretending Jes is his mistress to give them more time together to plot and plan. Does contain some romance, but not much. An interesting bit is how the premise is modeled after a variation of Little Women, which I hadn’t realized up until now. All in all, worth a read. 3.5/4 stars out of 5.