Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible.
Description taken from Goodreads. I received an advance copy of this book, to be published September 13th, 2016, from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own.
Funny thing is, I can remember what I loved about this book.
It’s so expansive. It covers everything from pirates to underground fighting rings to a book that contains everything that has happened and everything that will happen. Sefia and the boy whom she friends, Archer, go on this fantastical journey that leads them to all corners of their kingdom.
There’s a huge variety of characters, relationships, and facets to this story. We get to see relationships in so many different stages, and the way that Chee grows them is beautifully done. By no means does the romance ever overshadow the plot in The Reader, but it’s in the background for us to love and appreciate. In fact, the slow-burn of the romance made me love Sefia and Archer even more. In general, the major characters are well-drawn and thought out.
But what really surprised me was the supporting cast. No, the majority of the supporting cast is not completely fleshed out. Mostly, it’s a bunch of people who are loosely connected together whom Sefia and Archer meet on their journey. However, the way that Chee connected these people, especially the pirates, to make them real, was remarkable and added to the story well.
Looking back on it, I loved this book while I was reading it. It had so many different elements that I loved, and I enjoyed exploring the world that Chee had created. I loved the story, which is why I’m not quite sure why I’m so meh about it now.
There are a few different points I should address, the first of which being the lack of diversity.
This sounds crazy, considering the fact that there’s an Asian girl on the cover, but I don’t recall reading anything that marked this book as diverse. And even if the characters were diverse, there was basically nothing that differentiated the characters from the majority of fantasy characters out there in the world. Calling a book diverse because the character is allegedly so is completely different from being able to tell that the character is diverse based on interests, ideals, choices, etc. It’s the same difference between showing and telling.
If you’re looking for diversity, this isn’t your stop.
All in all, the writing of The Reader didn’t bother me. It wasn’t anything super special, but it wasn’t notably bad in any way either. There was a certain amount of cheesiness when it came to aspects of the story like finding the book. Look, we know what a book is. There’s only so much Sefia can gawk over a book before it starts to get irritating.
All things considered, I would still recommend this one, but not to people who don’t typically read fantasy. I don’t know what it was, maybe it’s just great for a one-time read, or maybe it’s me and not the book. Personally, I think this was just not particularly memorable in the long run. I’ll be picking up the sequel to The Reader because I’m still invested in the characters, but I’ll probably end up borrowing it rather than buying it.
Solid debut, but not one I’ll be buying. 3 stars.
Series: Sea of Ink and Gold #1