A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Fantasy meant to entertain.
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
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.
Violence & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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Occasional verbal hostility.
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.