Last year, I covered Traci Chee's The Reader, the first title in her Sea of Ink and Gold series. Today I am happy to cover the follow-up, The Speaker. I may not be much of a fantasy reader, but something about this series appeals to me, and I am excited to see how the story continues.
The Situation: Sefia and Archer have managed to escape the Guard and are now back out on their own, though they are being expertly chased. It is not only them that they Guard wants, but the Book as well. In a world where no one reads or writes anymore, words are powerful and stories can be used as weapons. Fortunately, Sefia is able to use the ability she inherited from her parents to keep herself and Archer safe, while he can use what he learned while in captivity to fight almost any battle he comes across. Together, they make it their mission to free as many other boys as they can from the dreadful Impressors: men and women who have made a job out of capturing young boys in an attempt to find the one who will bring about the Red War. With Sefia's power and Archer's skill, it seems they cannot lose, and their worst enemy may be themselves.
The Problem: If Archer's time in captivity taught him how to fight, it also taught him to want to fight. The only thing that seems to help silence the nightmares and the ever-present tension and thirst for revenge he always feels as a current running inside of him, is being able to punch, kick, stab, and shoot, anything that causes hurt and pain. Freeing captured boys helps Archer feel better about what he has become, but as he gains followers, and the team becomes a well-known gang to be feared, he fears he is becoming exactly what the Impressors are looking for. Sefia feels the same, but she would do anything to stay near him, though she is already afraid she may be losing the boy she loves. Add in the fact that the Guard is still after them; the Book continues to be cryptic and withholding when telling its secrets; and that there is a much bigger plot with control over all of Kelanna as its goal; and it seems that Sefia and Archer's story is far from over. But will it end with both of them alive? Will it end with them together?
Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult fantasy book set in the fictional world of Kelanna. In this sequel, Archer and Sefia travel mostly in the land of Deliene, though they do find themselves in Oxscini for a time. Sefia is once again the primary protagonist, but there is almost an equal amount of attention given to Archer and his thoughts as he attempts to fight his guilt and blood lust. Readers do get to see the return of Captain Cannek Reed and the rest of the crew on the Current of Faith, as well as the members of the Guard who continue to hunt down Sefia and attempt to bring their time of reign to pass. Everyone in this story is ultimately attempting to change their own fate, while seeming to simultaneously run right into it. The Book that Sefia has in her possession holds all of the answers, but consulting it is tricky. It seems to reveal only what it wants to, and you have to be able to ask the right questions. Sefia and Archer want to be able to live their lives, but fear they have a bigger part to play in everything - parts that may separate them, even kill them. The Guards want ultimate power over all of Kelanna, but will they be able avoid killing each other off before their plan comes to fruition? It is all written in the Book, and they all agree that what is written will come to pass. But they either don't trust it, or they don't want to wait, as everyone is still fighting for or against their own destinies.
My Verdict: While I do have the same issue with this one as I did with the first book, in that sometimes there are just too many characters doing too may things for me to keep track, I will say that the confusion was much less, and I was better able to almost let go of all of the details and just enjoy the ride. And what a ride it is, though granted, the map of Kelanna at the beginning of the book does help. Sefia and Archer's adventure alone would probably be enough to fill an entire series. But Chee does not stop there as she always goes back to what the Guard is up to, as well as Captain Reed and his crew. It is evident that the story is working up to something big, and The Speaker does well to build up the excitement for what is to come in the next book. It contains exactly what every fantasy book should contain: magic, fighting, conspiracy, intrigue, adventure, travel, and an ending that opens the door to incredible possibilities. The only thing missing is some sort of monster, but who knows? That may be coming in the next book. And naturally, I love that this is a world that emphasizes the power of books and words and how easily we can take them both for granted.
Favorite Moment: *spoiler alert* When Archer manages to cut off one of Serakeen's hands in the middle of a fight.
Favorite Character: The more I learn about Captain Reed and his story, the more I like him and want to see more of him.
Favorite Quote: "You don't get to be a slave-owner and a hero." - Captain Cannek Reed
Recommended Reading: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor may be a good adventure for many young fantasy readers, though I really enjoyed The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton.