The Graceling Realm || series review

11:32 am

This year I made a resolution to write a review for every book I read. As you can tell, I am doing pretty well at that (/sarcasm). But it's not too late in the year that I can't get caught up! So here we go!

The first book I finished in 2016 was Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore. It's the final book in the Graceling Realm trilogy, so I'm just going to review the series (as evidenced by the title of this post).

The Graceling Realm trilogy is a YA fantasy series. The books of this series feature a different main character, but they all tie in together. Bitterblue is the direct sequel to Graceling, and features characters from Graceling and FireFire is a companion prequel to Graceling, but I wouldn't read it first because it would have spoilers for Graceling.

Some series stats:

In this world, there are people known as Gracelings, people that have with an extreme skill, or "grace". They are born with different coloured eyes, which is how they are able to be identified. Katsa, our main character in the first book, is graced with killing. Being the niece of a brutish king, she is forced to be his personal assassin, even though she loathes every minute of it. She is part of a secret council that goes performs tasks that seek justice against the crown. One day a prince named Po comes to the council and asks them to find his missing grandfather, believed to be kidnapped by one of the neighbouring kingdoms, and our story takes off from there.

Fire takes place many years before Graceling, and it tells the story of a girl named Fire, the last human monster living in a wild country. Monsters in this world are brightly coloured versions of regular animals, and they also possess the ability to control minds. Fire has this ability but she is very reluctant to use it, as she doesn't want to force her will onto innocent people. However, Prince Brigan needs her help to uncover a plot against the king, and convinces her to come to King City to become a part of his investigation.

The final book in the series, Bitterblue, takes place a decade after the events of Graceling. The young Queen Bitterblue has ascended the throne of Monsea, and she must unravel the mysteries surrounding the reign of the previous king, who was a tyrannical ruler.

Good things about this series:

  • The world building in this series is amazing. It really felt like a proper fantasy world, with many rich elements woven together. 
  • The characters were very strong, and for the most part they showed good development over the course of their respective stories. Strong female protagonists are always good.
  • The romances in these books feature slow-burning, "will-they-or-won't-they" relationships, which I quite enjoy. 
Not so nice things about the series:

  • My main complaint about this series is the very casual attitude toward sex that Cashore depicts. It's nothing at all for people to have sex outside of marriage, with multiple partners, and we also see several homosexual relationships and an implied bi-sexual character. The middle book, Fire, is the worst one for this. One of the male side characters sleeps with nearly every female character introduced in this book. All of the women just accept this as how he is, and they have no qualms about the situation at all. There is also a very convenient plant that serves as a "morning after" device, and the only negative depiction of a sexual encounter at all in this series is that a female character gets pregnant because she didn't have any of this plant on hand. [I realize that others might not share the same opinion on this topic, these are just my personal moral convictions.]
  • Bitterblue suffered from some pacing issues; it felt like at times the story was just spinning it's wheels because Cashore was trying to build more mystery, but really it just felt the same things kept happening over and over. It could have been a good 100 pages less and not suffered at all. 
Overall conclusion:
I think that Kristin Cashore is an excellent writer, and if you want to get into fantasy but are intimidated by it, this would be a good place to start. 

If you are bothered by the sexual elements I mentioned, just skip Fire altogether. It does have elements that are fascinating regarding the world, but you won't miss anything at all if you read Graceling and Bitterblue as a duology.

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