The Traitor's Game, Book 1

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
The Traitor's Game, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Royal intrigue, mild romance in action-packed fantasy.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 13 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Fantasy meant to entertain.

Positive Messages

Knowing the truth brings responsibility, so make sure you're ready for it when you start seeking answers. People will be more willing and available to help you if you haven't been rude or vented anger at them. Issues like fulfilling responsibility, keeping promises, and knowing where your loyalties lie are constantly changing for Kestra, and may provide clearer messages in future installments.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Kestra's a good role model for taking decisive action; enduring hardships; and breaking gender stereotypes by preferring the outdoors and weapons training to more traditional, indoor, female pursuits. But she's got a lot to learn about how to deal with people and keeping her temper in check. Simon's also struggling to do his best with divided loyalties, but he always acts based on what he thinks is right. Everyone's keeping secrets and no one fully trusts anyone.


No real gore, but a few instances of fighting that mention blood. Fights with daggers, swords, and crossbows that fire discs that slice victims and do further damage with magical properties. A major plot point involves kidnapping and coercion. Magical devices used to cause extreme pain, described briefly. Lots of threatening people with daggers and a few instances of stabbing, with blood mentioned but not described. A battle involves explosions, mention of people fleeing and dying, and aerial attacks with magical weapons that cause large-scale destruction. An important character dies.


Lots of feelings of attraction and conflicting emotions. A few kisses with caressing. One deep kiss with brief description of emotions and mild physical sensations.


Occasional verbal hostility.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Traitor's Game is the first in a planned fantasy trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen, author of the Ascendance and Mark of the Thief trilogies. Some of her series have been for kids ages 8 and 10. This book is aimed at a slightly older tweens-and-up audience, mostly thanks to romantic elements like feelings of attraction and a few brief kisses. There's lots of action and violence, some of it fantasy and some real-world, that isn't gory but does mention blood a few times. Torture with magical devices describes pain in some detail. Protagonist Kestra defies gender stereotypes by preferring weapons training and exploring the outdoors, but her character needs work when it comes to how she treats people and lets her temper get the better of her. It's free of profanity and any mention of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco, making it OK for tweens who are ready to add a dash of romance to their fantasy adventures.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byVi1 April 3, 2020
Teen, 13 years old Written byEllie Van Neste April 2, 2018

Too much romance

As all of Jennifer Nielsen's books are, The Traitor's Game was extremely interesting and a great book for the most part, but this book has too much ro... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byreader101. August 21, 2019

breathtaking book

I bought this book for fun but I never thought that it would affect me in any way but this book let me live in another dimension where everything you could th... Continue reading

What's the story?

In THE TRAITOR'S GAME, Kestra, who's 16, has been happily living away from her tyrannical father, second in power only to the king. Unexpectedly called back home, Kestra suspects that she'll have to face an arranged marriage when she gets there. But a rebel faction has other ideas about how Kestra can be useful, so they kidnap her while she's on the road. Using threats against the people she cares about, the rebels force Kestra to undertake a dangerous mission, one that will force her to betray her family. As her feelings for the rebel Simon grow, she becomes less and less sure of whom to trust, and whom to betray. With the fate of the kingdom at stake, Kestra will have to navigate a tangled web of dark secrets, including a shocking truth about herself.

Is it any good?

A veteran of fantasies for kids, author Jennifer A. Nielsen makes a switch to older middle-grade kids by adding a dash of romance to this action-packed fantasy adventure. The Traitor's Game offers intrigue, plot twists, secrets, magic, an evil king, a ruthless rebel leader, and two teen protagonists struggling to find their way through it all.

Kestra, 16, and Simon, a year or two older, take turns narrating the story. But instead of adding insight to events and motives, the voices of Kestra and Simon are too similar, and the reader may sometimes have to pause to remember who's talking now. The plot moves along at a good pace, with some predictability especially for teen readers, but some surprises along the way, too. Fantasy action/adventure fans will enjoy the rollercoaster ride to the open ending that doesn't satisfy but should leave them eager for the next installment.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why fantasies like The Traitor's Game are so popular. Which fantasy series are your favorites? How does this trilogy start compare?

  • Is Kestra a good role model? What are some of her character strengths and weaknesses? What about Simon?

  • How much violence is OK in books? Does violence in a fantasy story affect you differently from violence in a real-world story? What about violence in books vs. in movies or TV?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and adventure

Themes & Topics

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