Thanks to Scholastic Trade Publishing for supplying a copy for the purposes of review.
“He didn’t know it yet, but those words were about to become his biggest problem. Because I wasn’t giving up either. Not even close”
- Jennifer Nielsen, The Traitor’s Game
Jennifer Nielsen returns, the best-selling author bringing yet another rich fantasy world to life. Her latest work, The Traitor’s Game radiates an aura of tragedy and mystery to draw in readers of all ages. Entering an unknown world stuffed to the brim with magic and power only burdened by a somewhat predictably cruel monarchy, the plot immediately begins to push towards the slightly disappointing onslaught of plot twists and revelations at the conclusion of the novel which left me, personally, unsatisfied. Despite its predictable aspects in the matter of plot as well as the mediocre suspense, The Traitor’s Game fully explores the enigma that is the world of Antora through the alternating perspectives of Kestra and Simon.
Towards the beginning of her capture by the Coracks, Kestra was nothing short of brash, rude, and uncooperative when threatened to go and find the Olden Blade, a mythological dagger with the power to kill the king. As the story progressed, she began to learn why the rebels fight for their cause and how much suffering is present in her home, allowing her to open her mind despite growing up in a very closed, tight place. Simon wants nothing more than to complete his mission at any cost, but Kestra’s presence hinders him from being indifferent and acting without his feelings in play. Through their past, Kestra and Simon have connections that bind them in ways that can both help and harm. While originally on two opposing sides, the two gradually begin to wonder where the differences of their beliefs end and where they begin.
Nielsen skillfully adds depth and realism into every character in the novel, giving them each an explanation to why they act a certain way or why they fight for a certain cause. The alternating perspectives of Simon and Kestra further allow the reader to be more aware of the characters’ development outside of simply dialogue. Ultimately, it’s an effective tactic that could come off as an overbearing cliché with certain writers, but Nielsen fortunately avoids the trend, subverting any of those expectations.
However, after reading countless fantasy novels, aspects of the plot seemed somewhat bland such as a power-hungry, immortal dictator as well as the classic relationship between a girl of high status and a servant. It’s hard to see how The Traitor’s Game could stand out in such a busy genre, especially one with so many other better options. What little additions does Nielsen make are certainly welcome and I wished she spent more time developing these, rather than spending time thoroughly building a world that is governed by dull politics. In fact, The Traitor’s Game plays more like a set-up installment than anything else, a launching pad for hopefully more compelling entries in the series. But with the frankly dullness of this first installment, I’m not entirely sure how many readers would still be interested in continuing this arc.