ARC Review: Fence Striking Distance by Sarah Rees Brennan

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The boys of Kings Row bout with drama, rivalry, and romance in this original YA novel by The New York Times bestselling author Sarah Rees Brennan–inspired by the award-nominated comic series by C.S. Pacat and Johanna The Mad. 

Sixteen-year-old Nicholas Cox is the illegitimate son of a retired fencing champion who dreams of getting the proper training he could never afford. After earning a place on the elite Kings Row fencing team, Nicholas must prove himself to his rival, Seiji Katayma, and navigate the clashes, friendships, and relationships between his teammates on the road to state championships–where Nicholas might finally have the chance to spar with his golden-boy half-brother.

Coach Williams decides to take advantage of the boys’ morale after a recent victory and assigns them a course of team building exercises to further deepen their bonds. It takes a shoplifting scandal, a couple of moonlit forest strolls, several hilariously bad dates, and a whole lot of introspection for the team to realize they are stronger together than they could ever be apart.

The first installment of this enticing original YA novel series by Sarah Rees Brennan, rich with casual diversity and queer self-discovery, explores never-before-seen drama inspired by C.S. Pacat’s critically acclaimed Fence comic series and boasts original cover and interior art by Johanna The Mad.

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Thank you very much to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for providing me with an advance review copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Fence: Striking Distance is set for publication 29 Sept, 2020.

Preorder the novel:
Little BrownDymocks | Amazon | Booktopia

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While you two were busy studying the blade, I was busy having a lot of fun.

Sarah Rees’ Brennan’s addition to the Fence universe is the novel of the year, I’m calling it! I’ve loved C.S. Pacat’s fun graphic novel series since the very first issue and even celebrated along with her during the launch party back in 2017. Fence: Striking Distance takes everything that is delightful, exciting and addicting about the comics and puts it into book form, imbued with Brennan’s unique style.

Fence: Striking Distance follows Nicholas, Seiji, Aiden and Harvard, the loveable characters of the comic series, as they navigate high school, fencing matches, dating, friendship and learning to become a team. Coach Williams knows the boys can win the state championships, but they’re not going to do it until they learn to bond and trust one another. So she sets them the task of doing just that: connecting as a group of friends so they can become stronger as teammates. Along the way, the boys purposely commit a crime, fail to talk about their feelings properly, and forge lifelong friendships.

Nicholas, the protagonist of the comics, is on a scholarship at Kings Row and is doing everything he can to prove that he belongs there, especially as his fencing needs a lot of work. Nicholas comes from a poor background and struggles to relate to his peers, although some of them go out of their way to make sure he knows he belongs there. I have to say that Nicholas really is just the purest character: he has such a light in him and can always see the best in situations, no matter how many times he’s beaten back.

Seiji is the fencing virtuoso who has focused a majority of his life on fence training and ignoring everything else, including cultivating friendships. But as he’s Nicholas’ roommate, he soon discovers that he doesn’t really have a choice in becoming Nicholas’ friend — Nicholas basically forces his friendship on him. Seiji very soon stops complaining about this and even begins to enjoy Nicholas’ company, and it isn’t long before the pair start to get in trouble together. I’m not kidding when I say that Seiji and Nicholas literally share one braincell — the boys are ridiculous and silly and absolutely terrible at picking up on social cues! Be prepared to laugh until your sides hurt.

Even though Nicholas is the central protagonist of the comics, Fence: Striking Distance is Aiden and Harvard’s novel. From the moment they appeared in the comics, I knew I’d love Aiden and Harvard, and boy was I right! Aiden is the school playboy and dates as many boys as he possibly can because he can’t have the one person he’s actually in love with: his best friend, Harvard … who is completely oblivious to this fact. So Aiden puts up a wall between his feelings and Harvard and tries so desperately to not allow himself to cross that barrier, because he can’t abide anything ruining their friendship. As a result, he’s angry a lot of the time, pretty mean to anyone who is not Harvard, and disappoints the team time and time again. But Harvard’s the only one who is able to see behind the mask Aiden puts up for the world.

Speaking of Harvard, has there ever been a sweeter or lovelier character in the history of YA fiction? I seriously doubt it. This boy is so charming, you just want to give him a massive hug. I mean, he calls his mum everynight and ends each call by telling her he loves her! You really can’t get any better than Harvard, and Aiden is well aware of this. Which is why Aiden gets extremely jealous and anxious when Coach suggests that Harvard should start dating. Aiden and Harvard’s story is my favourite element of Fence: Striking Distance and I guarantee it will be yours too. You will laugh and cry and squeal with happiness — and then desperately desire the next book in the series.

As usual, Brennan’s writing shines in each story she writes and Fence: Striking Distance is no exception. She has a great gift for capturing the teen voice and taking the reader on a nostalgic journey of first romance, heartbreak, friendship and all the ups and downs of adolescence, as if we ourselves are back in high school again.

If you’re a fan of fake dating, silly jocks befriending a horrified notorious loner, thieving escapades, bullies get their just desserts, characters passing one braincell between each other, and the slow dawning realisation of love, then you’re going to love Fence: Striking Distance. Get your hands on a copy as soon as it’s out!

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About the author

Sarah Rees Brennan is the author of the Demon’s Lexicon trilogy, and the Lynburn Legacy series which begins with Unspoken, a romantic Gothic mystery about a girl named Kami Glass, who discovers her imaginary friend is a real boy. Sarah’s latest fantasy standalone In Other Lands, the story of the crankiest nerd who ever fell into a magical land, is now available! She’s also the author of the tie-in series of books with Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: all three books out now, and coming later this year is a tie-in with C.S. Pacat’s FENCE graphic novel series…

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