Me to me: not every blog post needs a perfect image. not every blog post needs a perfect image. not every blog post needs a perfect image. *repeat ad nauseum*
It’s winter and it’s dark and I either had to use the only picture I had or I’d have to wait to post this review. And I am dead determined to have a new review up every Friday of 2018 (starting today, obviously) and I’ll be damned if I let perfectionism mess it up on the first week. Plus look at my wittle Charlotte. Isn’t she precious? I love that little bean.
But you didn’t come here for cat pictures (or maybe you did! you can expect many more of them from now on). You came here for a review of the The Speaker.
The Speaker is the second book in the Sea of Ink and Gold series. While this review is completely spoiler free for The Speaker, it will definitely contain spoilers for the first book, The Reader. Continue at your own risk.
The Speaker picks up five days after where The Reader left off. Sefia and Archer have escaped the Guard and are on the run again, but things have changed between them since that encounter with Tanin and Serakeen. Archer has his voice and his memories back, and he is now haunted by dreams of all the boys he killed. Sefia is devastated by the truth about her parents and wonders how Archer could ever look at her the same way again, knowing that her parents were the reason he’d been abducted and turned into a killer.
Sefia is desperate to make amends for her parents; Archer is determined to get vengeance. Together they begin hunting the impressors and rescuing captured boys. But with every battle Archer’s bloodlust grows, until he even begins to fear himself. Meanwhile, Sefia’s obsession with The Book deepens. She wants answers. But as The Book at last begins to reveal its secrets to her, she begins to realize that saving Archer might mean losing him.
I admit I had some reservations about The Speaker going in. I really enjoyed The Reader, but it definitely had some pacing issues and it dragged in spots. It was unique and interesting and innovative, but it was also definitely a debut book if you know what I mean. But from the first pages of The Speaker I could tell how much Traci had improved as a writer just from the first book to this one.
Like The Reader, The Speaker alternates between multiple story threads, but they are woven together much more naturally in this book than in the first one. It is still a little jarring when a completely new perspective gets introduced, but it pulls you in pretty quickly as you try to figure out how each thread fits together with the bigger plot.
This also remains one of the most beautifully diverse series on shelves to date. A number of beautiful queer relationships were introduced in this book. There is on the page gay rep (or potentially bisexual; it is never specified). I was also pretty certain that the woman they rescue from impressors, Frey, was trans, but I just saw another review saying they wished the book had trans rep? But I was like 99% positive she was a trans woman. Here is the passage that made me assume so. For context, the first group that Sefia and Archer rescued from impressors are sharing the stories of when they got captured:
“They separated the girls from the boys…I don’t know what my friend Render thought was going to happen, but when the impressors put me with the other girls and started executing us, he leapt forward. ‘That’s not a girl!’ he shouted….”
“…Your friend betrayed you?” Sefia asked.
“He killed me. In a different way. In a way that hurt worse than one of their bullets.”
I took this to suggest she was AMAB and he mis-gendered her in an attempt to save her. I could be wrong, but that’s how I read it.
I also really love that we get chapters from Archer’s perspective this time around. He has a really interesting character arc throughout the course of this book, and you never really know what direction he’s going to go in next. It really helps drive the story and the tension between characters to get to see Archer’s justification for the decisions he is making versus how Sefia and the others are perceiving and responding to those decisions. This becomes increasingly important the further into the book you get. Sefia and Archer’s new band of found family do not often agree on what the group should be focusing on, and Archer is very much caught in the middle of those conflicting interests, which is only made more difficult by the fact that he is struggling to figure out who he is now that he has his memories back.
Personally, my favorite bits of The Reader were those that follow Reed and the crew of the Current of Faith, and while the rest of the storylines definitely got more engaging in The Speaker, I admit I’m still partial to the pirates. Give me *all* the pirates.
Reed has a particularly fantastic character arc in The Speaker. From the moment it was introduced in The Reader I have loved the way his character twists the typical “I know when I’m going to die” trope. So often these characters are overly cautious or avoid forming relationships because they don’t see the point. Not Cannek Reed though, oh no. Reed’s response to every ridiculously dangerous adventure that floats by is “I’ve seen my death and this wasn’t it so fuck it, let’s go.” And I just think that’s positively brilliant.
That said, seeing his death has made him acutely aware of his own mortality. We saw in The Reader how determined he is to do something worthy of remembering, so his name will live forever even if he won’t. But in The Speaker this obsession of his begins to get challenged. He has to decide whether he is willing to sacrifice other people in his quest to be immortalized. I wonder whether his awareness of his own mortality makes it easier for him to turn away from others’? If his death is predetermined, so is everyone else’s, right? So why interfere? But throughout the book he’s forced to wonder whether immortalizing his name might mean making decisions he would rather not be remembered for.
As I mentioned, there are quite a few new characters introduced in The Speaker, but I don’t really want to get into it all too much so you can all get introduced to them as you read.
The Speaker is an even darker ride than The Reader, with a enough twists and turns to ensure you never really know what’s coming next. No matter who your favorite characters are, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a few surprises. There are a few chapters that start to drag a little, and I admit it took me far longer to get through than it should have, but that is at least partially because of when I picked it up. I started it over the holidays. I was busy and in a bit of a rut, and I don’t think this was the book I needed to pull me out of it.
As a whole I was tempted to go with 3.5 stars, but the ending is pretty damn phenomenal and leaves you desperate for the next book, so I’m bumping it up to a solid 4. A really amazing ending is pretty much a sure fire way to get me to rate a book higher than I had been planning. I’m a sucker for them. *shrugs*
All that aside, if you loved The Reader, I’m confident you will love The Speaker even more. It is rare that the second book in a series is genuinely better than the first, but Traci Chee definitely raised the bar, and I cannot wait to see what dark and twisted road she takes us down next.
Tell me if you’re planning to read The Speaker down below! And if you already have, tell me what you thought!