The Reader: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Sefia has been hiding and evading capture for most of her life. It started with the house  built on a hill filled with secret rooms and hidden passages meant to guard a dangerous secret. When her father is murdered, Sefia does what she has been trained to do. She hides. She grabs the thing that her parents spent their lives protecting. She goes to her aunt Nin and together they run away.

After Nin is kidnapped, Sefia vows to find her. Sefia turns to the strange rectangular object her father died to protect. As she examines the thing, Sefia slowly realizes it is a book.

The Book may hold secrets about Nin’s abduction and Sefia’s own parents if only she can master the symbols within and learn to read the words. In Sefia’s world, books are their own kind of magic–a dangerous power in the wrong hands. Sefia will need that power if she wants to rescue Nin and stop hiding in The Reader (2016) by Traci Chee.

The Reader is Chee’s first novel and the beginning of her Sea of Ink and Gold series. This book is a layered narrative filled with hidden messages and clues within the text (be sure to look at the page numbers for one of them). The depth and layers within The Reader are impressive and staggering to contemplate. However the hidden clues, messages, and intricate physical design of this novel are distracting at times. Readers willing to give this story time and a proper chance will enjoy the intricate layers and the unexpected ways Chee’s multiple narratives come together.

In the fantasy world Chee has created the written word doesn’t exist. While they have identifying symbols to label things like herbs and other items, this world relies more heavily on an oral tradition for their stories and history. Books and reading are magic in a very literal sense and so both things are closely guarded by mysterious powers and largely unknown to citizens like Sefia.

If you spend too much time scrutinizing the main conceit of this plot (reading doesn’t exist), it starts to crumble. How does electricity work in this otherwise non-industrial society? How do characters leave messages for each other without written words? Are glyphs used? Oral recordings? No one knows or at least no one shares.

Vocabulary that would be taken for granted in any other story also needs further clarification in a book like The Reader. How do characters know about pens or reading lamps? Why do they exist if, as the novel states, reading doesn’t exist? Furthermore, although Chee’s writing is rich and heady, there isn’t a particularly good way to show a character learning to read when that character doesn’t have the vocabulary to describe a book, letters, or words. It makes for plodding passages and very slow progress for the rest of the story.

Readers willing to ignore these niggling questions may find themselves drawn into Sefia’s story. The premise, the larger message about the written word, and particularly Sefia’s own growth is empowering. Chee’s descriptions are vivid and bring Sefia’s multi-faceted world to life.

The Reader is a slow-paced adventure story. Sefia embarks on a journey with unlikely allies and surprising foes. She discovers magic and her own inner strength. She also, strangely enough, learns to read. How you feel about that last one will largely influence how you feel about this story as a whole. Recommended for readers seeking an introspective fantasy with a slow payoff. (Go into this one willing to commit to the series as many of the big reveals come in final chapters.)

Possible Pairings: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

February 2017 Reading Tracker

You can also see what I read in January.

Books Read:

  1. Wildlife by Fiona Wood
  2. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (re-read)
  3. The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (re-read)
  4. The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (re-read)
  5. A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner (re-read)
  6. Thick As Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner
  7. The Stone Heart by Faith Erin Hicks
  8. But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure
  9. Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller
  10. Frostblood by Elly Blake
  11. American Street by Ibi Zoboi
  12. Gilded Cage by Vic James
  13. Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynn Jones (re-read)
  14. Frogkisser by Garth Nix

Books On Deck:

  1. Freya by Matthew Laurence (Mar. 14)
  2. The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby (May 27)

Books Bought: 0!

(Books Bought is a tricky this month. Technically, based on the number of books I own according to goodreads, I didn’t buy any books. But in reality I bought 4 titles and a total of 12 physical books. After waffling about it for years I finally caved and bought the original hardcovers of Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief books. As well as the paperbacks with different covers. And the reissues that are being released at the end of this month.)

ARCs Received:

  1. The White Russian by Vanora Bennett (not requested, St. Martins)
  2. Game of Shadows by Erika Lewis (not requested, Tor)
  3. I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maureen Goo (requested, Macmillan)
  4. In Some Other Life by Jessica Brody (requested, Macmillan)
  5. The Traitor’s Kiss by Erin Beaty (requested, Macmillan)
  6. Love is Both Wave and Particle by Paul Cody (requested, Macmillan)
  7. Journey to the Hidden Islands by Sarah Beth Durst (requested)
  8. Silent by David Mellon (not requested, Merit Press)
  9. Waking in Time by by Angie Stanton (Amazon Vine)

February 1: I did not get to Frostblood last month but do still have it in my “rotation” here. I also added some later book releases because I would like to get some read ahead of time to schedule reviews/interviews nearer to release date. That said, I am digging the way my tbr is shrinking so I am definitely going to keep integrating backlist titles into my reading rotation.

February 4: I thought I was going to start this month reading some backlist titles from my shelves and getting to some forthcoming  releases. But timing is such that I decided to start my re-read of the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner instead. I am almost halfway through The Thief which I’ll be reading for the third time at this point and it’s just wonderful. Still. After all these years.

February 6: Really enjoying my re-read of the MWT series. Also really glad that I decided to re-read because I didn’t realize that Kamet features in the series and will now have his own book.

February 7: Starting The King of Attolia on my way home from work tonight.

February 9: Finished The King of Attolia. I always thought that The Queen of Attolia was my favorite book in this series but it might actually be The King of Attolia. I started A Conspiracy of Kings on my snow day today. I love Sophos and his tone is so conversational and so different from Eugenides. It’s been great rereading this series. I remember a lot of the broad strokes from my previous reads and I have my favorite scenes but it’s nice “meeting” characters I had forgotten and seeing twists coming together. I’m pumped for Thick as Thieves. Also thinking again about curating my personal library and realizing if it’s a book I can’t imagine rereading I probably don’t need to keep it.

February 15: Oh. Em. Gee. Thick as Thieves was excellent. I followed that up with The Stone Heart and it was a fast, exciting read. So curious to know what happens next. After that I’m moving on to another highly anticipated book: But Then I Came Back.

February 27: I am slowly buy surely getting through a lot of things on my to read list including, bizarrely, many re-reads (I didn’t really consider myself a person who re-reads until last year when it came to me that I just wasn’t curating my personal library carefully enough to truly highlight the books I wanted to return to). Latest re-read has been Fire and Hemlock which confirmed that is has earned its lifetime spot in my top five favorite books ever. It also made me think it might be time to read one of the DWJ books I have been saving for years because the thought of not having any new DWJ books to read.