If you're looking for creative, well written, and intriguing fantasy, Kristin Cashore is an excellent author to go to...and I highly recommend that you take a peek at her work if you haven't gotten the chance yet. :)
Here's what I have to say about Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue:
GracelingI'd give Graceling 5 out of 5 stars. (Well, maybe 4.8.)
Here's the official synopsis on Goodreads:
In a world where people born with an extreme skill—called a Grace—are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of the skill even shedespises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him.
When she first meets Prince Po, who is Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.
She never expects to become Po's friend.
She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away...a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.
Ok, so the setting was fairly typical--it had a renaissance feel, complete with castles, forest(s), and snowy mountains. At first, this disappointed me; I thought I had gotten myself into yet another fantasy novel whose culture had all but been ripped from ye olde times. But after reading through the first 2 pages (usually it takes me longer than that, but hey, it was good) I was completely hooked!
Katsa, our dauntless female protagonist, is introduced with the stellar hook that she's Graced with the ability to kill people...and this entire world is filled with people who are Graced with strange, albeit exceptional, abilties. These abilities can range from altering people's dreams to sensing people to baking the most delicious cakes (ever, of course). Those who are Graced have two different eye colors, and are typically "employed" by the king/ruler of a particular district.
The plot is fascinating, good enough to make you want to finish the book in one gulp. Some aspects of the plot are a bit formulaic (aka predictable), but I think that even those parts are enjoyable. Part of the enjoyment lies in the expectation of an event or budding of a relationship, after all.
My favorite part about Graceling was Katsa's fire and determination to change the world around her, even when she felt helpless to do so.
My least favorite part about Graceling was the herbs. I know, I'm so old school...but I disliked Katsa's reasoning for using them. \
FireI'd give Fire 5 out of 5 stars. Fire is a companion novel.
Also, Fire wins the award for best cover in the Graceling Realm series in my mind--the symbolism was simple, but genius.
Here's the synopsis on Goodreads:
It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. The young King Nash clings to his throne while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. The mountains and forests are filled with spies and thieves and lawless men.
This is where Fire lives. With a wild, irresistible appearance and hair the color of flame, Fire is the last remaining human monster. Equally hated and adored, she had the unique ability to control minds, but she guards her power, unwilling to steal the secrets of innocent people. Especially when she has so many of her own.
Then Prince Brigan comes to bring her to King City, The royal family needs her help to uncover the plot against the king. Far away from home, Fire begins to realize there's more to her power than she ever dreamed. Her power could save the kingdom.
If only she weren't afraid of becoming the monster her father was.
Fire's story line was even more compelling to me than Graceling's, largely because it feels as though Fire has more at stake that she risks to lose (and to gain). The area known as the Dells is wild--no pun intended.
Highlights of Fire: the romantic relationship(s) that develop, Fire's growth and acceptance of herself, and the political intrigue. I also enjoyed the culture of the Dells.
Disconcerting parts of Fire: Again, a bit formulaic, but not so much so that reading was unenjoyable. Besides, the characterization of Fire makes up for it. The voice of Fire overall, however, seemed to be strikingly similar to the voice of Katsa...and I found this to be distasteful because I expected variation.
Fire is (probably?) my favorite of the three novels Cashore has penned, though.
Although I was very excited to read Bitterblue, I didn't enjoy the novel very much. I'd give it 3.8-4 stars out of 5.
Here's the synopsis on Goodreads:
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.
The premise of the story is really neat, but it was so slow. So slow. And long...! It was hard to get through this one. Overall, though, it's worth the read. Cashore's prose is still lovely and her characters are still solid...I just felt that her plot could've been a bit more cohesive.
Bitterblue takes several blasts to the past in her desire to heal her broken kingdom and discovers several horrific things about her father and his advisors and the plans that they carried out. The damage done to Monsea and its people by Bitterblue's father is very similar to that of the Dells by Fire's father. In fact, it was this parallel between the two that captivated me throughout the story.
Most enjoyable parts: The realism of the psychological destruction of Monsea's people (particularly Leck's advisors) is superb. Cashore doesn't pull her punches. I was enriched as a writer by reading :).
Least enjoyable parts: There were a few parts in the novel that were upsetting to me (herbs. I mean, really??! Really?), but overall it was the tempo of the novel and the structure of it that left a bit of a bad aftertaste in my reader mouth more than anything. It just seemed very sporadic.
And then, of course, there is the voice issue. I honestly think that all three characters--Katsa, Fire, and Bitterblue--all have essentially the same voice. I don't understand *why*.
Oh. And the fact that Fire's political struggle is very similar to Bitterblue's, which made me feel like I'd already read portions of Bitterblue before. But other than that, it was pretty good.
Overall, Kristin's Graceling Realm series is well worth reading--great characterization, wonderful prose, generally captivating plots, and impressive creativity.
Have you read any of the Graceling Realm Series? What did you think of it/them?