The Middle Grade Fantasy I Thought Was YA (Help I’m Confused and I Can’t Get Up)

The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen
★★★ — 60%

HA, look at me, I’m still confused. DOES BANGING MY HEAD AGAINST THE MONITOR HELP??? I DON’T KNOW???

The Traitor’s Game wasn’t YA. I’m saying it like a mantra but I’m not bitter. Not! (Totally unimportant sidenote that doesn’t make me want to hide at all: I just checked Barnes and Noble and they have TTG under teen books and I’m crying and laughing and running away but I CONTEST.)

Trust me, bookstores don’t know anything.

(And thank you, Cait, for sending your ARC along!)


Nothing is as it seems in the kingdom of Antora. Kestra Dallisor has spent three years in exile in the Lava Fields, but that won’t stop her from being drawn back into her father’s palace politics. He’s the right hand man of the cruel king, Lord Endrick, which makes Kestra a valuable bargaining chip. A group of rebels knows this all too well—and they snatch Kestra from her carriage as she reluctantly travels home. The kidnappers want her to retrieve the lost Olden Blade, the only object that can destroy the immortal king, but Kestra is not the obedient captive they expected. Simon, one of her kidnappers, will have his hands full as Kestra tries to foil their plot, by force, cunning, or any means necessary. As motives shift and secrets emerge, both will have to decide what—and who—it is they’re fighting for.

my thoughts


(The book, not a hypothetical man. HEH clarifying is good.)

If there was ever adorable-kidnapping-adorable-rebellion-adorable-prison-escape, this was it. The characters were young and naïve and stupid and flat, but they were fun to read about. The plot was ambitious, but underwhelming. The plot twists sometimes caught me by surprise, but sometimes they didn’t. Don’t count it against the book, though. The Traitor’s Game would’ve been thrilling for a younger reader. I’m just…not quite that young anymore. [nervous laughter from stage right] Middle grade? I rest my case.

all the positives, because optimism

  • The book was so light and fluffy and I had a blast with it
  • There was cuteness in every conflict
  • The writing was enjoyable to read, and everything was well developed and constructed.
  • Simon. Who was… Simon.
  • Am I really that predictable
  • YES I AM
  • The city names made me feel better about my own lack of creativity
  • The world-building brought me back to my old favorite books from junior high, so, MEMORIES.
  • The ending gave me almost as much joy as eating a piece of cake would
  • So yay for good endings

pet peeves that were petted

  • Kestra constantly “pulling out of Simon’s grip”??? Like dude how did you even get hired as a rebel if you don’t have an epic vice grip? YOU HAVE ONE JOB
  • “I LOATHE HER haha just kidding she’s cute. Maybe if I stare at her hair she won’t notice—ENEMY!” Yeah that’s working for me.
  • The whole let’s-act-like-a-petulant-spoiled-princess thing. Put on your own dress, you’re 16, ma’am
  • “The Dallisors always have the last word.”
  • HI, please burn that sentence
  • All of them
  • Love interests acting like puppies is a great move right
  • Hehe shy giggles, mumbled chuckles, good fun
  • Main characters falling too easily into tropes
  • Main characters not able to figure out their own hearts when literally anyone else could’ve done it for them and saved time. Time! TIME AND TROUBLE! Just hit yourself with a rock already.
  • Oh wait, that happened
  • #insensitive

That’s the long and short of it, for me. And since I’m abominable and pushy it’s the long and short of it for you, too. (Why do you have to have your own opinion when you can have mine????) I’d recommend The Traitor’s Game to a reader open to a middle-grade/YA hybrid, but if you frequently take a sword to that kind of book, for your health (and the health of The Traitor’s Game, because what did it do to you??), I’d ask you to keep away.

Also, what are you doing with a sword, seriously? That’s archaic.

dirty talk

Language: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Another reason for middle grade. Another reason to not trust bookstores.

Violence: Not much here either. The main characters see some action, but it’s never excessive or even strong.

Sensuality: Three kisses total? I think?

Substances: The word wine is said. If it’s tasted is less certain.