Book Review: The Student and the Slave (Krillonian Chronicles #3)

Follow the links to refresh on Book 1: The Collar and the Cavvarach and Book 2: The Gladiator and the Guard.

Is this what freedom is supposed to be like? Desperate to provide for himself and his sister Ellie, Bensin searches fruitlessly for work like all the other former slaves in Tarnestra. He needs the money for an even more important purpose, though: to rescue Coach Steene, who sacrificed himself for Bensin’s freedom. When members of two rival street gangs express interest in Bensin’s martial arts skills, he realizes he may have a chance to save his father figure after all … at a cost.

Meanwhile, Steene struggles with his new life of slavery in far-away Neliria. Raymond, his young owner, seizes any opportunity to make his life miserable. But while Steene longs to escape and rejoin Bensin and Ellie, he starts to realize that Raymond needs him too. His choices will affect not only his own future, but that of everyone he cares about. Can he make the right ones … and live with the consequences?

I read 80% of this book in one sitting and stayed up late (again) to finish it. The perfect conclusion to a three-book saga, The Student and the Slave continues just enough content from the first two books to keep us engaged and comfortable while introducing plenty of new material to keep the story fresh and interesting.

The Cast

Yes, Steene was a major character in the first two books, but his story was still secondary to Bensin’s. In Student the roles switch: while Bensin continues to play a significant part, now he’s the one supporting Steene’s story problem of finding freedom. I’ve loved Steene just as much as (if not sometimes more than) Bensin since the beginning, so Steene’s swap to center stage made me happy.

Ellie fades into the background again, and I did miss her after the way she stepped up in book two. This time, however, we have Raymond as a new main character. To be honest, I wasn’t rooting for him in the beginning, but I tried to give him a chance along with Steene, and what do you know, by the end of the book I actually wished I could meet him too. (Just goes to show how a life can be changed by a good mentor, by one person willing to risk for and invest in someone else. I hope we all pick up a little lesson from his story.)

The author continued to impress me with the three-dimensionality of all her side characters, especially the other members of Raymond’s family. I also got some warm fuzzies as characters from the previous books continued to develop, like Doc growing out of his arena fear and Ricky becoming starting to build his own life. I cheered when Officer Shigo showed up again, though after all he’d been through with the Mayvins family I was a little sad not to get more closure with him.

The Setting

After two books set entirely in the city of Jarreon, The Student and the Slave takes us to the different cultures and climates of Tarnestra and Neliria. As someone who’s known the varied seasons of East Coast America all her life, I got a kick out of watching Bensin experience a similar fall and winter for the first time.

From economics to legal systems, subway routes to gang territories, the author continues her trend of impeccable (and fully believable) worldbuilding. Every setting is fully grounded in this alternate reality, leading to a comfortable and confident reading experience.

The Pace

You won’t have to strap into a four-point harness or put body armor around your emotions like you did for The Gladiator and the Guard, but you’ll still have to keep your seatbelt on for all the twists and turns.

While The Student and the Slave has action, it’s not what I would call action-packed, especially when compared to book two. I didn’t feel let down though—after the grit and intensity of Gladiator, I appreciated the change of pace and tone to a gentler read. Gentler but no less intriguing—I found myself gripped by the challenges Bensin and Steene face as a slave becomes a free man in an unstable province while a man becomes a slave in a massively rich household.

A few times I thought the POV could have been a little closer and the explanations a little shorter, and some of Bensin’s early scenes were borderline repetitive. Only once early on did things seem to get slow, but it was at exactly that point that a new stake was introduced, and I was riveted the rest of the book.

I totally thought the climax would go down differently, but how it DID go down was perfect to the story and perfect to the characters. And I could not have dreamed up a better ending. By the time I got to the last few chapters, I wasn’t sure what I wanted—my gut was as wrenched as Steene’s about the choice he had to make and the consequences it would carry for everyone. I was fully prepared to resign myself to a bittersweet ending however Steene chose. Thankfully, I didn’t have resign myself to anything except the regret that the series ends here. (Another book please?) Kudos to the author for the perfect conclusion to the book and the trilogy.

The Themes

Books one and two demonstrated themes of sacrifice—giving something up for others’ benefit—and morality—doing what’s right—and The Student and the Slave both continues and deepens these themes while zooming in on additional themes of family, loyalty, and togetherness. Ironically, it’s the lower-class found family that demonstrates more family qualities than the immensely wealthy biological family. (Steene’s decision moment ranks among the most powerful scenes I’ve ever read. Wow.)

And don’t worry, cavvara shil still features heavily in this book. I absolutely love how this martial art doesn’t just show up in each story, it’s the heart of each story. And Student is no different—nearly all the major plot points hinge on cavvara shil, and we get treated to some exciting competition scenes reminiscent of The Collar and the Cavvarach.

Note: I really appreciate this series as a YA read that, for once, doesn’t involve the characters in a government overthrow, a large-scale war, international tensions, or kingdom/country rulership. Saving or changing the world gets tiresome after a while, and I found it refreshing to get lost in a story that keeps problems local and individual.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m so glad I found The Krillonian Chronicles. I loved getting sucked into these clean, well-written stories with their action and humor, depth and intrigue, and positive moral themes, and I highly recommend them to all YA readers.

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