Source: eARC from the Publisher
Raisa was just a child when she was sold to work as a slave in the kingdom of Qilara. Despite her young age, her father was teaching her to read and write, grooming her to take his place as a Learned One. In Qilara, the Arnathim, like Raisa, are the lowest class, and literacy is a capital offense. What’s more, only the king, prince, tutor, and tutor-in-training are allowed to learn the very highest order language, the language of the gods. So when the tutor-in-training is executed for teaching slaves this sacred language, and Raisa is selected to replace her, Raisa knows any slipup on her part could mean death.
Keeping her secret is hard enough, but the romance that’s been growing between her and Prince Mati isn’t helping matters. Then Raisa is approached by the Resistance—an underground army of slave rebels—to help liberate Arnath slaves. She wants to free her people, but that would mean aiding a war against Mati. As Raisa struggles with what to do, she discovers a secret that the Qilarites have been hiding for centuries—one that, if uncovered, could bring the kingdom to its knees.
I'm not going to lie - despite my initial excitement, the first few chapters of Sword and Verse were not the easiest to read. I found them a little bit boring, but more than that, it was a struggle making sense of the decisions Raisa and Prince Mati, our main characters, made. I initially found their characters immature, and I had a hard time believing that they were truly in love because they profess it so early on! I also found it difficult to like Prince Mati because feel like I didn't get to know him like Raisa knows him. The first 20-25% of the book read more like a love story than a fantasy novel, and not that there is anything wrong with that, but it's just not what I signed up for, if you get what I mean.
I'd like to point out, however, that the love between Raisa and Prince Mati isn't exactly insta-love though it may seem like it. It's just that I feel like their relationship started and developed (though they didn't exactly realize it) as they grew up and learned the Language of the Gods together as tutor-in-training and heir apparent respectively... and thus before the happenings of the book. As a result, we weren't exactly privy to it. I do think that it would have been much better if we got more of the 'before' - how Raisa and Prince Mati met, how they became friends, and how they learned to trust each other.
Okay, folks, so I know that the last few paragraphs might have made you decide to pass on this book, but DON'T LISTEN TO ME... because as I read on, well damn, the book GOT SO MUCH BETTER. (So much better that I needed to express myself in all caps!) Remember how I thought Raisa was an immature character? Nope, I couldn't be more wrong. She wasn't immature - she simply was just a young girl who was distracted in love. Also, my previous misgivings of how Sword and Verse seemed more of a love story than a fantasy novel? Uh-huh - I was proven wrong too! The latter part of the book gave due focus to this beautiful world she has created, and I also want to take a moment to laud how expertly MacMillan developed Raisa into a believable character that you root for and someone you want to succeed!
Raisa is not your quintessential fantasy heroine. She's not brash and outspoken; and she's not a skilled fighter. This doesn't mean that she isn't any less strong though - Raisa uses her intellect and her wit to win battles, and these are what make her a force to be reckoned with. The most difficult of decisions and tasks were thrust to Raisa, and since Raisa had no one who can guide her, everything she did she had to do herself - she stood up, dusted her hands, and took action. I also liked the fact that MacMillan portrayed Raisa as a girl that everyone she can relate to - she gets upset, she sometimes makes the wrong decisions, she sometimes lets her feelings get the best of her... her character is as realistic as they come.
Sword and Verse is not just your ordinary fantasy novel, nor is it your ordinary romance either. It's a tale of strength and courage; a tale of love and passion; a tale of growth and self-discovery, and most importantly, a tale of change... all these amidst political dissent. You might find the first few chapters bland, but I encourage you to continue reading because next thing you know, you'll be tearing through the pages because you cannot get over the world-building, the heart-pounding action, and Raisa's character development. Oh - and did I mention that Sword and Verse can be read as a standalone? And that it doesn't end as a cliffhanger!? (I KNOW!!!)
Rating: 4 Stars