Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible.
Traci Chee’s THE READER is a mesmerizing fantasy about the power of words, stories, families, and friendships. Sefia is easily lovable, kind, and strong, and her story is anything but easy. She carries the grief of losing her family around with her and often feels that she could have prevented Nin being taken in the first place. Readers will see something of themselves in her as she discovers more about written words and the book she carries. Throughout the story, there are brief excerpts from the book she carries around, allowing you to really connect with what Sefia is experiencing.
Though romance is a small portion of the book, it demands to be discussed. Sefia and Archer have the sweetest slow-burn/friendship turned to love relationship I have ever read. There are some slow romances where you want to characters to kiss at every turn, and there are some, even more rare for me because I love kissing scenes, where you would happily revel in any scene with both of them, whether they’re just hunting for food or sitting silently, enjoying each other’s company. Sefia and Archer are both heartbreakingly vulnerable, and the way they learn to lean on each other is nearly tear-inducing.
A book about a book, a young woman learning to read while saving her remaining family, a boy whose hands are tough but heart is soft, and an endearing and existential pirate crew come together to make the fantastic experience that is THE READER.
For a long time, she and Nin are on the run. Everything changes after Nin is taken, and Sefia embarks on a journey to save the only family member she has left. She opens the book and learns to read- luckily, her mother had taught her through play with blocks when she was little. She reads fantastical stories about Librarians and pirates, including about Captain Reed.
In the kingdom, young boys are disappearing. They are captured, their necks are scarred and then they are forced into a battle to the death. Sefia comes across one such boy being kept in a crate by the men who took him. Finding an opportunity, she frees him and he willingly follows her. He does not speak (perhaps cannot remember how), and so she calls him Archer. This book follows not only the stories Sefia reads from the book, but also their quest to find answers for both of them.
At first, I found myself getting lost in all the stories and characters- there are a lot of potential people to follow and remember, perhaps 4 or 5 storylines within the actual book. It's tough to remember where you were when you put it down and pick it back up. I think this would be better read in one sitting as a result. By about 30-40% of the way through, I found myself enjoying it more and better able to follow the multiple storylines. Captain Reed and his crew were probably my favorites- many are special/skilled and they have interesting adventures.
Sefia was a good main character overall, but I felt that we got only minimal answers in this first book. There is little closure, so you definitely will need the next book. A minor romance develops between Sefia and Archer, and I am curious to see how this plays out in the future. Overall, I enjoyed the read and would continue with the series.
Please note that I received an ARC from the publisher through netgalley. All opinions are my own.