This pairing totally surprised me. I am a huge fantasy fan, especially if it involves a lady assassin. (Spoiler alert: Sword and Verse does not have a lady assassin.) I went into this ready to be super skeptical of Sword and Verse to combat my natural bias. Then again, I truly LOVED John Corey Whaley’s Where Things Come Back, so I guess that sort of evens it all out.
I tore through Highly Illogical Behavior. The banter and friendship was so enjoyable. The pacing was quick and the alternating narration was very compelling. I can easily see teens loving this book. That being said, I had a lot of concerns about the treatment of mental illness, just like Round 1’s reviewer. Being in a public library, I don’t always have the chance to follow-up with teens on book recommendations and ask the questions to get them thinking critically about what they just read. I also found that in reading other reviews of the book, a lot of people glossed over these issues entirely! Go ahead, Google it. Few mentions on Goodreads or professional publications.
Another thing that bugged me was that Lisa is SO smart and SO ambitious and wants to be a psychiatrist but doesn’t see the ethical dilemma of treating someone without their knowledge and using them as an experiment???? I don’t buy it.
Anyway. Even I will admit that it’s hard to find a new and interesting YA fantasy story sometimes (unless it involves lady assassins). Sword and Verse did a couple things I really enjoyed. First, it flips racial power dynamics by setting up a world where slaves are white and the rulers are people of color. I also really enjoy fantasy books that are more political than quest-y, and even though Raisa was not involved with ruling at all, the small glimpses she shared were intriguing. Ultimately, the piece that makes Sword and Verse different from other YA fantasy stories is the focus on a sacred language and how that works within the power structure. Raisa and Mati were kind of meh as a couple and their romance wasn’t that great. But! It read as a standalone novel, which is rare these days, especially in YA fantasy. I think she’s writing a sequel, but I had enough closure in this book to just ignore the next one.
In the end, I enjoyed reading both books. Neither one was particularly awesome. If Highly Illogical Behavior had addressed some of the mental illness concerns, I think it would have been my winner. Too bad.
Winner: Sword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan