Graceling Trilogy

Great hills. I have no idea what took me so long to read Graceling -- although, in hindsight, I'm glad I did. Because if I had read it after initial publication, and been forced to wait for years until being able to pick up the rest of the story, I'd have been very. very. unhappy. (Especially when you consider the torture I endured waiting just 10 days or so!) I'm going to review the three novels "together" - in order - and will tell you right now: You need to read them in order, it makes the story better. I'll try to avoid spoilers, but I can't make any huge promises - because these things are awesome. You should read them!

Kristin Cashore
Harcourt, 2008

Katsa is a Graceling. A very skilled, very fearsome Graceling. What's a Graceling you ask? Good question. When a child's eyes "settle" into two separate colors -- one brilliant blue, the other stunning green in Katsa's case -- they are identified as Gracelings. And Gracelings have powers ranging from cooking skills to fierce combat skillz. Katsa, who has lethal combat abilities (she cannot) be beaten, has become her uncle the King's henchman - being sent on errands of "justice." But she fights back, because somewhere deep inside is a heart that treasures true justice. And freedom. One on of these errands of mercy, Katsa meets another Graceling fighter - whom is later revealed to be the youngest prince of another kingdom. Prince Po. Who also has a passion for truth and freedom, and a good many secrets of his own - particularly concerning his grace. When the two join forces, and set out on a mission to discover the truth of (another kingdom) Monsea's King Leck, strange and wonderful things happen.

It's a gripping story. Addicting. Po and Katsa have a chemistry and grace that is ... palpable. Swoon-worthy. She's fierce and wound tight, struggling to make sense of her growing awareness of "feeling" in light of her "bloody" past. He's carefree and light, hiding something powerful and able to feel things with an amazing intensity. They spar and banter and fight and love. They're an amazing team. And there are events in the story that ripped my heart right out of me, leaving me desperate for more. I did get resolution - to a point. But was left hanging, needing to find out what happened next. Later. After.

Book provided by my local library.

Kristin Cashore
Dial, 2009

I should have know, by the subtitle "Companion to Graceling" that Fire would not answer all the questions of my heart. But I needed more, and Bitterblue was checked out, and it came next in the trilogy, so I read it. Well, read most of it - I started reading it straight through, and 80someodd pages in, decided to do that "skim reading" thing: read several pages, then skip ahead a few, then read, then skip. I got the bulk of the story, but a lot faster. Because, let's face it: I needed more Po and Katsa, and while it's a great story, Fire is not that. In fact, it pre-dates Graceling's events by 30some years (or so, give or take?) The only character from Graceling to appear in Fire is Leck - as a child (and seriously creepy). So you definitely want to read Graceling first, so you don't ruin that reading experience by knowing the stuff that happens in Fire.

As for Fire, it's a wonderful story in its own right. Fire is a dynamic and beautifully drawn character, struggling to balance her power with her heart (much like Katsa, but even more complicatedly). The situation is tense: a kingdom stands in the balance, and Fire's powers are greatly needed to save it. In and of itself, that doesn't seem like a hard assignment, but Fire has so many ghosts from her past - and new complications from her present - that it's hard for her to become what she must. With the help of a wonderful, colorful cast of supporting characters, Fire gradually realizes that she can be fully empowered and still maintain her own identity - can love and be loved, can give meaningful assistance to those around her. Her past, her nature does not dictate her true self nor her future. I liked Fire, a lot. (I also really liked Archer, even though he was a serious player/a little bit of a jerk). I could relate to her on some levels more than I could to Katsa, but both are crazy strong, dynamic, amazing heroines.

Fire has merit and purpose, it just didn't supply my need for another Katsa and Po fix ...

Book provided by my local library.

Kristin Cashore
Dial, 2012

At last. At last! The sequel to Graceling. And companion to Fire. So many things in one (fairly thick, actually) book. And that's just the contextual stuff. This was one heavy read. Amazing, but heavy. Let's see if I can make my thoughts make sense ...

Bitterblue picks up ten years after the close of Graceling, with young Queen Bitterblue trying her best to help her kingdom finally shake off the effect of King Leck. It's a far harder task than she expected, as she discovers once she starts slipping out at night, in disguise, and meets  people who are actively seeking to right Leck's wrongs. People like Saf, a mysterious Leonid Graceling whose mission is to steal back what Leck's henchmen stole first. Saf, and his friends, challenge Bitterblue to take a closer look at things - no matter how painful they are - and soon she starts seeing a pattern. A puzzle. With the assistance of Gideon and Po, and a surprising selection of unexpected friends (like the librarian - Death), Bitterblue slowly, painfully, peels away the layers of deception and hiding and pain until she finds the truth.

The story itself is crafted beautifully. It brings back my favorites, though the focus is less on Po + Katsa as a romance, and more on Po + Bitterblue as a rescue-the-kingdom story. I loved seeing Gideon again, and watching as he and Bitterblue become closer. And Saf is quite a character in his own right - I like these Leonid Gracelings that Cashore creates. But the read itself yanked and pounded on my heart. It's a rough read. The things Leck and his "cronies" did are horrible, horrifying, and just generally sickening. Reading about them is hard. It make's Bitterblue's struggle more real - as reader, I had very similar reactions and problems with the truths Bitterblue discovered. It's truly a heartwrenching story, but also a hopeful one. Because there's a core group, bound by love, determined to carefully locate the truth and restore a broken kingdom.

Book provided by my local library.

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