Series: Sea of Ink and Gold #1
Published by Putnam on September 13th 2016
Source: Author Review Copy
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult, Romance
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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.
It’s a good thing that we have books in this world, or I wouldn’t know how I would be able to survive. But in Sefia’s world, books are nonexistent and words are just meaningless scribbles. I admit, I was a little hesitant coming into this story. What does pirates have to do with books having magic in them? I really had no idea what I was getting into, and I’m super glad I got into it in the end. All these plot elements are entangled so thoroughly with each other, and we get to see wonderful characters and refreshing discoveries on the way. This is a fantasy that definitely shouldn’t be missed by readers.
The book starts off with Sefia’s guardian Nin getting captured mysterious people. We get a little backstory of how Sefia’s parents were both murdered when she was a child and how she lived constantly on the run with Nin. But with Nin’s capture, Sefia finds herself alone. Well, not exactly alone… She has an interesting object with her, one filled with scribbles. Sefia recalls her parents teaching her these scribbles as a child, and we get to see her slowly learn how to read.
“It was as if, all this time, she’d been locked out, catching glimpses of some magical world through the crack beneath a door. But the book was the key, and if she could figure out how to use it, she’d be able to open the door, uncovering the magic that lay, rippling and shifting in unseen currents, beyond the world she experienced with her ears and tongue and fingertips.”
The beginning of the book was set at a fairly odd, slow pace; after Nin’s capture, we get a brief sentence on how Sefia was tracking down Nin’s captors for a whole year before more things happen in the story. She rescues this boy who can’t speak (who she eventually names Archer), and he becomes her companion for the rest of her journey. Interestingly enough, his captors for some reason had a symbol that was also marked in the book, so they follow the kidnappers to search for more answers about the book and the symbol on it.
Sometimes Sefia would read aloud to Archer some stories from the Book, and for some reason we find out that these characters are actually alive, and their paths cross with Sefia’s while she’s looking for Nin’s kidnappers. I love the way Chee incorporated this little bit of magic; in the Book is the past, present and future. However, it’s up to the person themselves to shape up what kind of story they want to leave behind. I think the author leaves a great message of controlling your own destiny, and the legacy that you want to leave behind because of it.
“‘You got a choice, Sef. Control your future, or let your future control you.’”
The parts with the pirates were so so so fun, and I only wish there were more pages with them. We get to meet an eccentric cast, and the world that Chee builds is also phenomenal, and I loved reading more about the Library and how only certain people are gifted with the chance to learn how to read. The antagonist in this book does pretty awful things, but all in the name of “peace.” However, readers are left to wonder if a world where only “certified” people are meant to read is a world that could have everlasting peace.
There is a slight romance that also goes on with Archer and Sefia – it’s so little though you would think there’s almost none. Although the book isn’t heavily romance-inclined, the adventure the characters face together is more than worth it. Their relationship definitely begins on friendship and slowly – very slowly – blossoms into something more. This stems from a build up of trust and respect, as both characters watch out for the other. While Archer’s quietness stems from his disability to speak because of the horrors done to him while he was captive, he was still a caring and fierce character. (And by fierce I mean that boy can fight, as well as the fact that he fights for what he thinks is right.) Sefia on the other hand is no joke herself – she knows how to survive on her own in the wild, did so for years, and is independent to a fault. She’s also super clever and dicovers the hidden aspects of the Book by herself while she’s learning how to read. I always love a quick-thinking character who defends her friends and family.
Another interesting aspect is the fact that there’s a hidden message on the bottom of the pages. 🙂 I didn’t realize this until almost 400 pages in (that’s how engrossed I was in the story), but I went back after reading to figure out the puzzle and I absolutely adore the message that was left there. It has to do with the story, and the title, and ergh just everything fits so well.
Fans of fantasy will fall in love with The Reader like I did. If you’re wary about the slow pace in the beginning, I’d recommend you to forge on and once the adventure starts picking up its pace, you won’t want it to end. There’s a tantalizing mix of adventure, action, romance and magic, as well as an unforgettable message that makes you appreciate all the words that you’ve read, and have yet to read. Chee’s writing is utterly spellbinding, and the story flows so well you won’t even realize that a hundred pages has passed because you were so engrossed. Although this is a fantasy, readers of all different kinds of genres will appreciate The Reader, if not for its wonderful story and characters, then for the message that will stay in the hearts of readers for a while to come.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5