Oh dear…this has been a long time coming. I finally get to review a trilogy. I finally read a trio of books during my writing career that I’ve loved so much that I wanted–nay NEEDED–to gush all over you poor, unsuspecting Internet. This will be a long post, folks, as I’m covering three books! So hopefully you enjoy some of this!
But ye best be warned: There be spoilers here. I’ll warn you before you stumble into the bear trap and then scream about how I’ve ruined your leg, and you’ll never walk again, and I have to drag you out behind my shed, beat you into unconsciousness and bury you alive. For liability and guilt’s sake, it’ll be the crushing earth that kills you. Not your inability to be warned about spoilers!
So the GRACELING trilogy is not like any others you’ll read. They share characters, they share a universe, they share basic premises, but they each have a very different feel to them. They each ever very different themes. So why did I love them so much if they’re so different?
It’s a Geekster’s Paradise
If you’re a fan of fantasy, sci-fi, or comics, you will see some impressive parallels between the world Kristin Cashore has crafted and some of your favorite properties. Have no fear, though! These are not rehashings or rip-offs. These books are their own, but they tackle issues that are seen in a lot of “geeky” franchises. I’ll go into this more when I look at each book on its own, but there’s a little something for everyone here. Special powers, fate, heinous villains, struggling heroines, and even the occasional hero (who needs his ass saved by the heroines).
The Fantasy That Wasn’t
Graceling and its companion books are not fantasy books. At least I wouldn’t classify them as such. I’d call them paranormal. Maybe even sci-fi. But because they’re set in a universe of swords and arrows, you might think they are. It would probably take the finishing of Graceling to realize that this isn’t some high fantasy book with twenty-five special areas you need to memorize and an intricate history spanning thousands of years with fifty some-odd kings who each had some random quirk or something. You won’t be stumbling across trolls, centaurs, dragons, or the shockingly unhelpful Best Buy sales associate who, let’s face it, doesn’t know anything more about wireless printers than you do.
What you do get is a very straightforward world. There are kingdoms. They live together, rarely in harmony, but they’re easy to keep track of. The politics are simple enough because they’re shockingly realistic. An island nation being peaceful. Because island nations tend to be isolationists. The central groups constantly struggling with each other and forming deceitful truces. Oh, hello mainland Europe for the last forever.
I’m not bashing high fantasy, far from it. But there is a big difference between Tolkien’s Middle Earth and Cashore’s Seven Kingdoms, and it should be noted!
Your Heroine, Sire
I intended that to say ‘Sir’ but added the ‘e’ by accident. It’s amazing how much more badass it looks, right?
The GRACELING trilogy is three books that are companion books to each other. In GRACELING, our heroine is Katsa. In FIRE our hero is…well, Fire. And in BITTERBLUE its…you know what? The first book is really the odd-ball here because Bitterblue is the heroine of the third book…
But the point is you have three heroines. And they’re very different.Katsa is hardcore. The kind of person you’d piss yourself to run into in a dark alley. Fire is…troubled, I suppose would be the best way to put it. But she has a certain elegance that Katsa never bothered with. And Bitterblue is your average teenager with way too much responsibility on her shoulders and a past that none of us could even imagine.
I love YA heroines. They’re my favorite to read, and my favorite to write. But all too often, they fall short. I won’t name names, but you frequently get the heroines who are only strong until the man comes and saves the day. Or the heroine who starts off hapless and through luck makes it to the end. There’s nothing particularly wrong with these characters, but it doesn’t say much for women in YA. As much as you lady folk like reading about some amazing guy, we fellows like to read about amazing women.
The GRACELING trilogy is our savior. These women don’t need anyone. They stand on their own, make their own choices. They don’t spend hours sitting in a room waiting for Romeo to show up. They go find Romeo and save him from the inevitable trouble he’s stumbled into because, seriously, why the hell can’t these guys keep from getting into trouble?!
The Books (Here be spoilers!!!)
If you had the power to kill with your bare hands, what would you do with it?
Graceling takes readers inside the world of Katsa, a warrior-girl in her late teens with one blue eye and one green eye. This gives her haunting beauty, but also marks her as a Graceling. Gracelings are beings with special talents—swimming, storytelling, dancing. Katsa’s Grace is considered more useful: her ability to fight (and kill, if she wanted to) is unequaled in the seven kingdoms. Forced to act as a henchman for a manipulative king, Katsa channels her guilt by forming a secret council of like-minded citizens who carry out secret missions to promote justice over cruelty and abuses of power.
Combining elements of fantasy and romance, Cashore skillfully portrays the confusion, discovery, and angst that smart, strong-willed girls experience as they creep toward adulthood. Katsa wrestles with questions of freedom, truth, and knowing when to rely on a friend for help. This is no small task for an angry girl who had eschewed friendships (with the exception of one cousin that she trusts) for her more ready skills of self-reliance, hunting, and fighting. Katsa also comes to know the real power of her Grace and the nature of Graces in general: they are not always what they appear to be.
What Geek Power Do You Hold?
A superior race rising above us normal folk with special abilities? I think the best geek example of this is X-Men. GRACELING takes this concept and runs off in many, many directions with it because there are many to be had in the Seven Kingdoms. The politics of people with abilities, the decisions they make about others with abilities, and the true nature of abilities. GRACELING asks: Just how dangerous is the simplest weapon in the hands of a sociopath?
It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. In King City, the young King Nash is clinging to the throne, while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. War is coming. And the mountains and forest are filled with spies and thieves. This is where Fire lives, a girl whose beauty is impossibly irresistible and who can control the minds of everyone around her. Exquisitely romantic, this companion to the highly praised Graceling has an entirely new cast of characters, save for one person who plays a pivotal role in both books. You don’t need to have read Graceling to love Fire. But if you haven’t, you’ll be dying to read it next.
What Geek Power Do You Hold?
A heroine struggling with an ability that begs for her to dominate over anyone around her? A power that has, for generations, proven to be the source of absolute power? All the while leaving this girl to struggle with whether she can use this power for good, or is destined to be evil? This is a concept seen in other forms, but I believe the most well-known example is Star Wars. Much like GRACELING, though, it’s taken on different paths here. Fire doesn’t have any choice about her abilities, they just exist. People are inherently influenced by her. She can’t turn it off. She’s seen what her power can do to the world, and she doesn’t want to repeat the same evils, but her path keeps leading her towards this. And perhaps the most important thing, is she is the last one. The last of her kind. The greatest struggle she has? Does she allow the blood of potential inherent darkness to go on to a child?
Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle–disguised and alone–to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.
Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.
What Geek Power Do You Hold?
BITTERBLUE is different from it’s companion novels, in that it is really a history buff’s dream. You read a lot of stories about the rise of a power, or the fall. But you almost never see the aftermath story. You don’t see the world recovering from the war, just the war. Because, I suppose, the idea is that clean-up stories aren’t all that fun. And they really shouldn’t be. After so much death and suffering how can there be fun? BITTERBLUE is packed with action and mystery to be sure, but it’s not the gathering of armies of its sister books. It’s not the clanging of swords. It’s about a girl trying to grow into an adult and a queen at the same time. About a kingdom, limping from old wounds and terrified to even dare remember the injuries. While the previous books are though provoking, entertaining, and full of awesome, BITTERBLUE is moving. I don’t think I found myself cheering for the downfall of the darkness in this book, but I did find myself closing the book every now and then because things were too intense to charge ahead.
This book will remind you of the atrocities committed in our world in the past, and in the present. And instead of thinking about the end of the tyrant, you will think about the carnage left in their wake. The lives destroyed for generations by the quest for power.
So there you have it! My thoughts on the GRACELING trilogy. I cannot begin to recommend these books enough. I’m not a huge high fantasy fan, and when I picked up the first book, that’s what I was sure I was going into. I was pleasantly surprised and now I’m just hoping we get to spend some more time in this amazing world that Cashore has created!!!
DISCLAIMER: Book Review Friday here is an enjoyable affair. I don’t review books I don’t like. Why bother wasting -my- time typing something negative and waste your time in having to read it? I usually don’t read a book unless I have a strong feeling I’ll enjoy it. And if by chance I don’t enjoy it, you won’t be seeing a review here. That’s just how I view reading and this site. My blog library will only contain books I enjoy. I keep bad books in the cold, moldy blog garage. As a warning to future books…