Amazing! Me too.
Kristin Cashore has your next reads all written, released, and ready for you in the Graceling Realm novels. Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue have an interesting relationship to one another—all three are companion novels, but Bitterblue is a sequel to Graceling (though the main character focus switches). Anyway, let’s get down to business.
REASONS YOU SHOULD BE READING CASHORE’S WORKS
1. THE SETTING:
Every time I picked one of the Graceling novels up, I became completely immersed in the Seven Kingdoms Cashore created. My brain was with Katsa and Po as they tried to rescue Princess Bitterblue, with Fire as she grappled with her identity as a monster with the ability to manipulate minds, with Bitterblue as she came into her own as queen and tried to rescue her kingdom from the clutches of false memory. You know you’re fully inside the book when you nearly miss your train stop not once, but multiple times. Cashore is one of those writers that excels in showing rather than telling—her exposition is woven through the book via the characters’ interactions and thoughts rather than carelessly info-dumped on the reader.
2. STRONG FEMALE PROTAGONISTS:
Each of Cashore’s leading ladies embody strong women that serve as feminist role models in the midst of a fantasy world. Graceling’s Katsa, previously the strong-arm of the Middluns and a graced (gifted with magical ability) assassin, breaks away from her uncle’s control—at first by starting a subversive group for helping people under his nose and later by outright defying him and leaving his court—and asserts herself as her own master.
Fire’s Fire, a beautiful monster gifted with the ability to influence the minds of others, is very different than Katsa but still embodies the role. Whereas Bitterblue’s father Leck and Fire’s father both abused their psychic abilities for personal gain and a sociopathic commitment to causing others pain, Fire is determined to find a way to use her abilities to benefit and protect others.
Considering Princess Bitterblue from Graceling and Bitterblue had to take the throne of Monsea at the tender age of ten years old and rises to the occasion like a champ, there’s absolutely no question that I would consider her a fierce character. She has no supernatural powers of which to speak, but she kicks ass and takes names every bit as well as Katsa and Fire. This teenager works insanely hard to put her kingdom right after Leck’s thirty-five year reign of terror—meaning that she fought a battle against incorporeal ideas and secrets. She fights it with grace and dignity, but also knows how to ask for help when she needs it—something that can require a lot of strength.
3. ON A RELATED NOTE, CHARACTERIZATION
Throughout all three of Cashore’s novels exists a well-developed cast of fantasy characters that are so real, they seemed to echo normal people without breaking the world building. For instance, gracelings Katsa and Po are skilled fighters that train young girls and rescue anyone that needs help. Through Bitterblue’s eyes, you totally see that they’re your dramatic couple friends that have loud fights and then are equally loud about making up. Cashore doesn’t make her characters ethereal beings of goodness and flawless perfection; she makes them human with emotional reactions to the situations they end up in and understandable flaws.
4. USE OF MODERN DAY “ISSUES” WITHIN A FANTASTICAL SETTING:
Cashore includes topics such as birth control and coming out to parents and loved ones within the Graceling Realm novels. An herb called “seabane,” used to prevent childbirth, has a presence and is discussed and used in all three novels as an accepted form of contraception. The promotion of safe sex in a fantasy novel? Not something I’ve seen too often in my other reads.
There are several gay characters in the Graceling Realm, and while their personal issues are by no means the focus of the stories, Cashore still takes the time to discuss their relationships with significant others and with their parents. Other characters are so matter-of-fact about their sexuality, it’s obvious that it is a natural thing in the Seven Kingdoms, even though the parents are not always as accepting as their friends about it. It’s nice to see the inclusion of both topics within a high fantasy realm without resorting to the usual tropes.
Listen. I know they’re long. Save it. They’re worth every 400-550 (depending on the book) pages they are. If you don’t think you can hack three four hundred plus page books, good news: all three books are interconnected, but can be read entirely independent of one another. Of course, I personally advise reading them all for the proper (and awesome) Graceling experience. I’m looking forward to reading more from Kristin Cashore in the future.