I'm a beginning fantasy writer. My favorite genre is fantasy and science fiction. I'm currently on a young adult kick.
I didn’t realize that the three books in this trilogy would be so independent, so I had to write a description and review for each one. Sorry that it’s so long. Feel free to skip to the end where I summarize the strengths and weaknesses of this series.
Certain people have mismatched eyes and are graced, meaning they have a particular skill or talent. Some talents are as simple as a skill at cooking, but others are more mystical such as swimming like a fish or reading minds.
Katsa has the Grace of killing. Her uncle, the king, uses her to dispense punishment to people who displease him, but Katsa’s not content to simply be her uncle’s pawn. She established the council to help people in trouble when the kings make unjust decisions. She thought she’d be alone, but the council has expanded and now spans the seven kingdoms. The council does things such as shelter farmers who are being punished for not paying their taxes after the king’s men trampled their crops.
On one such mission for the council, Katsa goes to rescue the father of one of the kings who has been kidnapped. There she meets a young man who has the grace of fighting. She knocks him unconscious and returns to her kingdom with the kidnapped man only to have the graced fighter show up at her king’s court. The man’s name is Po and the man who was kidnapped is his grandfather and he’s here to rescue him.
Deciding to trust this young man, whose silver and gold eyes have a disarming effect on Katsa, the council tries to figure out who kidnapped his grandfather.
The first half of Graceling is quick paced and interesting. Then the characters go on a journey and it becomes a series of traveling and running. I’ve read lots of fantasy so I’m accustomed to such ‘journey’ novels, but it caught me off guard after the exciting beginning.
The characters started out well, and they certainly grew from their experiences, but they felt underdeveloped for me somehow, as though the author couldn’t keep up the witty lines in the beginning of the book.
At around 50% there’s a sex scene making this an older YA novel, though you can see it coming and it’s easy enough to skip.
From the moment I learned the true nature of Po’s Grace I was afraid of what was going to happen. I hoped the author wouldn’t be so obvious, but sadly she was.
Fire is set in the same world as Graceling, but in a different place. In the land of Dell there are brightly colored animals, called monsters. They have the ability to bewitch people with their beauty and ensnare people’s minds. Fire is the only human monster, a girl of seventeen with hair the color of living fire. Fire’s father was the adviser to the king and an evil man. Most people hate her because of her father or fear her for her power.
I recommend reading the prologue as an epilogue (or at least after chapter 27) because it really should have been put later in the book. Otherwise it feels like you’ve read the revelation to a murder mystery and learn how the villain is thwarted first and it spoils the suspense of the book. I imagine it would be a much better book reading it this way.
Like Katsa, Fire is a strongly independent woman with no desire to marry and doesn’t want children. Though in her case it’s because she knows that any child she has will also be a monster and she’s afraid that the child would be like her father.
The love story in Fire is slower to get started than Graceling, yet still felt as though it happened all of a sudden. He hated her, then he spoke to her civilly, now he loves her? The reasoning was explained, (but I would’ve preferred if she won him over herself.)
Fire was a good character for about the first 70% of the book. She was a tough young woman similar to Katsa, but different enough to still come off as her own person. Then the character I’d been rooting for and liking for the majority of the book turned into a moody, selfish, weakling.
Bad things happened to the girl and I can understand her being sad, but falling into complete despair, and giving up didn’t fit her character.
When he finally confesses his love, she’s in a bad mood, so instead of the dramatic kiss I was hoping for, she’s mopy and mean. At that point I was largely reading to find out how their relationship turned out, so it was depressing when this was all I got.
Also, I didn’t see the point in her frostbite other than to depress her further and take away her occupation as a musician.
Bitterblue is eighteen and the queen of an entire country. Her days are filled shuffling endless stacks of paper. One night she decides to sneak out of the castle and see what her kingdom is really like. She discovers that people are still recovering from her father’s reign of terror, but things are worse than she thought.
She meets a pair of boys who work at a printing press. Are they thieves? What are they up to? They have many secrets, but she’s not exactly honest with them either, pretending she’s only a baker in the castle’s kitchen.
In a world with Graceling magical powers, Bitterblue is just a normal girl. She might be a queen, but I wish she had some sort of special ability. The plot felt more like a mystery than a fantasy and a rather predictable one at that. All of the excitement with the council takes place off page in this book, because like the first two books, it’s told from a single viewpoint. I wished we could go with Katsa and Po instead of being stuck in the castle with Bitterblue.
The high point of this book is seeing the old characters from Graceling, particularly Po. I liked Bitterblue in Graceling, but sometimes in her own book she grated on my nerves. She seemed stronger as a kid. I understand she went through a lot, but she was constantly breaking down and crying on someone’s shoulder. Her life in the castle was dull and frustrating, which makes for a rather boring tale.
Like Fire (where I kept reading to see how Fire would win Brigan over) I kept reading Bitterblue to see how her friends would find out she’s actually the queen. Unlike Fire the revelation wasn’t a disappointment and was probably my favorite part of the book.
The author ties the books nicely, but I wanted an epilogue to tie up all the loose ends. Maybe the author wanted to leave it open for another book.
The best part of the book was the glossary. (Odd, but true.) It’s ‘written’ by the librarian in the book Death (pronounced like Teeth). I wish the rest of the book was told with such a good voice! I chuckled a couple of times while reading it and not at all during the third book.
Throughout the entire book we’re present for the friendship then romance between two characters. At the end it seems like a waste of all this effort that they don’t wind up together. I realize this is realistic, but it’s sad that she winds up alone even if there are hints of something else.
The saving grace of these books (sorry couldn’t resist the pun) is the unique magic system the author has created.
The world building is simple until we get to Dell in Fire, but there are enough details for it to feel like a real world.
The characters are good, but I felt like the idea of the main characters was better than the execution. (They started out well, but it’s almost as if the author couldn’t keep up the good writing.) I liked all of the minor characters and kept wishing to see more of them.
If you’re one of those ‘show’ don’t ‘tell’ people the first two books will annoy you. The author tells a lot and it feels like we’re missing some good stuff that happened. By Bitterblue the author’s figured out how to tell a story, she still tells how time passes, but unlike the first two books the telling flows naturally.
Overall I don’t really recommend the Graceling books. They don’t live up their excellent premise. If you’re curious, I’d say read the first half of Graceling. Literally at 50% on my kindle is when it goes downhill. (Or uphill as they’re climbing a mountain.) Whatever you make up in your head for the rest of the book will be better than what happened in my opinion, though I doubt I could ever read half of a book.
Graceling- 7 Stars (First half 8 stars, second half 6)
Fire- 6 Stars (Same, First half 7 stars, second half 5)
Bitterblue- 6 Stars (whole book consistent)
What was the last disappointing book that you read?