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url 2016-03-31 03:04
5 Fantasy Authors I Fangirl Over

 I’ve talked on and on before about how fantasy is my favorite genre. I’m more likely to be drawn into reading a fantasy novel than any other, and some fantasy novels have inspired me as a writer too. Yes, I like to write. I’m a writer and a reader and a blogger. For the five authors I fangirl over, some of the commonalities include: a.) character-oriented fantasy; b.) mostly third-person narratives; c.) plots that go beyond the ‘lost prince trying to reclaim throne’ type; d.) complicated characters, plots, everything. And of course, the fact that I feel like my mind is getting bigger while reading their books.


1. KRISTIN CASHORE:

I think that one of the most interesting things about Kristin Cashore’s Seven Kingdoms series is that they’re all so different in terms of plot, though they’re all high-concept works that go waaaaay beyond their simple description (“a young queen must help her country heal after the destructive reign of her psychotic father” could describe Bitterblue but doesn’t get at any of the novel’s complexities). Probably the simplest, most typical coming-of-age of her books is Graceling, but that was her debut novel, and I think that ever since then, she’s been working on adding more and more complexity into her works. For me, she was the first author I’d read in YA fantasy who was also very much writing character-oriented fantasy. After reading her work, I feel like I can’t go back. I can’t read much plot-based fantasy—they’ll never be my favorites compared to the ones that put character first. The ones where the questions and themes and symbols of the series are embedded into the characters—and yeah, plot-based fantasies can do this, but comparatively, it’s a lot harder to add in the same level of complexity into the characters compared to the actual events of the plot. Kristin Cashore is the YA fantasy author who also gets mentioned in almost every YA fantasy comparison (“Graceling meets XYZ”; “For fans of Kristin Cashore”), and that’s for good reason.

2. MEGAN WHALEN TURNER

I’ve basically already fangirled hard over The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. If you follow that link, you’ll get the full sphiel on why I loooooove that series and fangirl over MWT in full, but for now… If I learned how to write high-concept character-oriented high fantasy from Kristin Cashore, I would learn how to write a high fantasy centered on a character that’s like a living legend from Megan Whalen Turner. (If this sounds familiar, that’s because Sarah J. Maas, among many others, was inspired by the Queen’s Thief series). I also think that of all the authors here, MWT probably has the *most* layered into each scene of her books, particularly as you go further into the series. The most in the sense that no scene will ever be just what it is on the surface; you might have a scene where a guard is confronting his peer, but there’s a lot more meaning embedded into the narrative and particularly how that scene contributes to making the main character, Eugenides, even more of a living legend. Yet, for all that the series shows his change in fortune, it never once fails to humanize him. Many fantasies alternative PoVs within a book so that you can relate to different characters; the Queen’s Thief series shows that you don’t need to do that to give a character complexity, but the choice of PoV and what that perspective adds are definitely questions to ask. We don’t always get the main character’s point of view, and he’s not always the main character of the book in question, but there’s no doubt that each book is adding to his character arc and that is the major one tied to the series arc.

3. C.S. PACAT

C.S. Pacat is not a YA fantasy author as of this moment. The Captive Prince trilogy is very much meant for mature readers (but I listened to an interview with her and it sounds like she might be writing a YA fantasy right now—so maybe we’ll hear more from her in the future). I first learned about the Captive Prince trilogy from Emily May at the Book Geek; I was intrigued, but I wasn’t sure if I should add onto my TBR—especially given its heavy sexual violence. Then Sarah J. Maas recommended the books, and my feed was full of the books again. So I decided to read the beginning, and I got hooked by the promise of the characters. As this article on the Female Gaze explains, one of the crucial elements in her books is this shifting of the default to homonormative. In her world, people shudder so much at the idea of bastard children that most relationships are with the same sex. And it got me thinking about how most fantasy novels, and novels in general, fail “to realistically portray sexual dynamics that do not exist in response and relation to traditional heterosexual relationships.” (The article goes over much more than that). C.S. Pacat has written novels where the default has shifted and made me consider—well, hey, why don’t more novels do this? This is something to always keep in mind while world-building. Plus, she’s ALSO amazing at adding in many layers to each scene and creating complex, multi-layered characters; they have a certain vitality, to the point where despite not knowing what Laurent would plan next or what other comradery scenes would come next for the army, I can picture the characters.

4. MAGGIE STIEFVATER

Maggie is the most different of the authors on this list because I wouldn’t technically call her work high fantasy (though if The Scorpio Races is on a fictional island and the society is different from ours with its water horses, why can't it be called high fantasy? finally high fantasy that doesn't equate to medieval patriarchal times...). Regardless, if C.S. Pacat has taught me about the defaults in world-building and characterization, Kristin Cashore about high-concept character-oriented high fantasy, and Megan Whalen Turner about layered plotting centered around a living legend, Maggie taught me the importance of atmosphere, of mood and feeling within a scene, and how those can work to achieve characterization in conjunction with the other elements I've mentioned. Maggie has talked about how she likes to think about her writing as 'moving stuff around in a reader's brain',' which creates a specific effect for each scene (and also each image for her characters). And reading the Raven Cycle, I feel that magic is real. I feel like I'm with her characters, experiencing the wonder of the forest, the creepy delight of trees speaking in Latin. That's a rare gift to find in a lot of fantasies, which prize political intrigue over readers being in the moment with the character.

5. MARIE RUTKOSKI

Finally, Marie Rutkoksi is a mastermind when it comes to introducing symbols within each scene. In The Winner's Curse, Kestrel agrees to something her father says, and he pats her cheek with his dirty hand. That dirty handprint is a wonderful symbol -- for the characters and modern associations. We might think of a "devil's bargain" caked onto Kestrel's face. Her father working with dirt, with his weathered hands; Kestrel wandering around the house, so focused on finding Arin that she doesn't look to see if there's dirt on her face -- so much to be said about the characters. It's just such a strong image! It stayed with me for a long time. And feeling like you're trapped in, marked so strongly by something you agreed to -- I as a reader can really relate to that feeling. In The Winner's Crime, Kestrel is eating desert with a sugar spoon during her dinner with a certain character (maybe the first chapter?). A sugar spoon, specially made, speaks to the luxury of her dining companion and his staff, the amusement and terrible waste of making a spoon that you can only ever use *once*. It also brings to mind the modern phrase of 'eating out of a silver spoon' -- except that this token of privilege is made of sugar. Still, it characterizes Kestrel well, and sets a dark foreboding tone for the rest of novel, given its place at the beginning. The spoon tastes sweet at the beginning but then by the end of the meal, it has dissolved into nothing (which, btw, matches really well with what Kestrel says at the end, no?). And note: those were only 2 images! One for each book! There are so, so many more in The Winner's trilogy.

All of these authors do amazing things with their novels. If you're a writer, especially a fantasy writer, I'd suggest reading their works for yourself to see how they've manipulated these different elements. If you're a reader who doesn't like to write, well, I'd still suggest reading these authors's works because they're brilliant. Are any of these authors among your favorites? Who do you fangirl over, and whose work makes for good lesson material for writers?

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review 2016-01-26 00:00
Bitterblue
Bitterblue - Ian Schoenherr,Kristin Cashore

A young queen deals with the ramifications of her tyrannous father...or as my husband likes to say, the book about a kingdom suffering from PTSD. I walked into this book prepared to love it. One of my all time favorite books is Fire, and Graceling is just marvelous too. However, I left this book feeling very dissatisfied. The plot meandered from one point to another in a cumbersome way. The characters felt very two-dimensional, even the returning characters from previous books. The romance, such a strong element in her past books, was subpar at best.

This book dealt with a lot social issues, which I do not mind at all. However, the story (plot, characters, etc.) really needed to flesh out these issues or integrating them more fully into the story. The book after awhile had too many ingredients, but enough time to join together as a whole.

Finally, the best part of the book was Death. Maybe I'm biased because he is a librarian, but he was the only real enjoyable new character to the Graceling realm. Can I have a book solely on him?

tl;dr A really disappointing  conclusion to the Graceling Realm trilogy with depthless characters, world building issues, and a boring plot. 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2014-11-20 22:24
.Bitterblue Book Review.
Bitterblue - Kristin Cashore,Ian Schoenherr

 The final part to the Graceling Realm Trilogy, or Seven Kingdoms Trilogy. We kick off six years on after the events of Graceling, this is a much slower read but is obviously building towards the many mysterious of the Kingdom.

It's hard not to feel sorry for Bitterblue, at a young age she has a lot dumped on her and with no family it's a struggle. Just like Katsa and Fire she is strong willed and determined to put her kingdom back together no matter the cost, which isn't easy when everything is built on lies upon lies. Still suffering from the effects of King Lecks reign, Bitterblue must uncover the truth of what really went on so she can make changes for the better. I found it so easy to share in her frustration in wanted to seek out the truth, but with advisor's not willing to relive what happened you get nowhere fast, you feel for them because they suffered and witnessed unspeakable things. I find myself wanting to shake her though and yell "screw their feelings you're their Princess!!" However with the discovery of Lecks journals the truth is uncomfortable to read.

 

The book is broken up in to sections which does help with the 576 page count, also this gives an idea or how fast things are moving and the progress their making, especially when things pick up. I love the fact these books are intertwined, with Leck being the character that appears in all three, it's seems like a fitting way to tailor these books. Graceling being his end, Fire his beginning and Bitterblue his middle. Not only finding out the truth about Leck but seeing where characters from Gracling are and their progression. Katsa and Po's relationship is just a volatile, Po is under a lot of strain, health and Grace wise, and seeing him come clean to Giddon was heartbreaking.

 

Of course like with the last books there was a love interest, but again it wasn't what the book revolved around, which is so refreshing. Bitterblue isn't just relying on the love interest for help in uncovering the truth but all her close friends. Saf is a constant reminder of the life she could never have, and when he does find out the truth about her she handles it well instead of crying in a corner, she's got bigger fish to fry.
 
It's so easy to forget that Bitterblue is so young but it's scenes where she cries alone that make you remember she's not as old and you think she is, she's a vulnerable child utterly lost and the only way to be comforted by her mother is from her embroidered sheets and wooden chest. The embroidered sheets are another reminder of how strong the woman are in these books. In a bid to keep hold of her own mind and protect her child from her fathers lies Ashen, Bitterblues mother, embroiders coded messages in the sheets in plain sight of everyone.
 
As much as this book is a slow burner with truths being dip fed to us, looking back a lot does happen in each section. Some things may not be as important as other things, and sometimes it can feel like you're getting nowhere as every advisor shuts off at the mention of Lecks name, but a lot does happen in under 7 months. I think the fact that you constantly don't know who to trust helps, sometimes you feel like maybe they are trying to protect her and as you continue to read your opinion changes on that person and you begin to wonder if maybe their still under Lecks influence or about to betray her.
 
 One of my most favourite things about this book is that we know the Dell's are real and where they believe Lecks talk of brightly coloured animals, monster people, the bizarre art work he fills the castle with and the three bridges in the kingdom could be put down to the fact they think he's mad, we can see how much the Dell's has influenced him and how he's tried to recreate it in the frankly creepy sounding sculptures.
 
Of course my favourite bit has to be once they discover the tunnels under the mountains and Katsa brings some people back with her. With that first description of Fire my excitement levels rose. Fire and Bitterblue are too people who have to meet, although of course Bitterblue is reserved and guarded against her the two of them have so much in common, both trying to prove themselves and both being up the pieces left by their fathers. Unfortunately their time together is short lived, I wish they had discovered the tunnels sooner, but there is a touching moment between the two of them where Fire expresses her regret at not being able to stop Leck when she had the chance after seeing what Leck did to Monsea.
 
As with most books that include large kingdoms and extensive exploration of buildings and cities I wish that there were smaller maps within the book or pull out maps. No matter how well things are described when it comes to large castles, it helps to have a visual aid, especially when they start using the secret tunnels.
 

This book finished off the series well, the fact that Cashore made the decision to include characters from the three other books helps it come to a close, she isn't needless adding them because she can, people like Katsa and Po remained a big part of Bitterblues life and Fire and the Dells had an impact on Monsea they could never imagined. To me including Fire helped bring extra piece of mind to them all, yes they found the tunnel and the strangely written diaries actually seeing proof is another thing.
Happy reading.
xx
 
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text 2014-09-01 07:59
Starting: Dead Silence... Because, reasons.
Dead Silence - Brenda Novak
Bitterblue - Ian Schoenherr,Kristin Cashore
Darkfall - Janice Hardy

I spent around three hours before going to sleep reading Bitterblue only to realize that, 50% into the book and I'm not even quite sure I care about what's actually happening to the characters.  The only thing keeping me reading it would be the strange "puzzles" that Queen Bitterblue herself keeps bringing up over and over again.  And as much as I hate to admit it, I'm curious enough to read the rest of the book just to figure out what the deal is with all the strange people in the Monsean kingdom.

 

Also, I don't recall Katsa and Po being quite so annoying from Graceling, but no doubt, I'm not very fond of either of them right now.  In fact, there isn't one character in this book I actually care for, really.  They all feel so detached in a strange way.

 

Nonetheless, I'm going to start a new book so I can take a break from Bitterblue.

 

As for Darkfall...  I had started reading Bitterblue so that I could take a break from The Healing Wars series.  And unfortunately, it seemed kind of counter-productive for me to go back to Darkfall in order to take a break from the book I had chosen to distract myself from Darkfall in the first place.

 

 

Anyway...

 

A good romantic suspense novel always hits the right spot.  And after finishing up my planning for my next big Reading Challenge project, I simply decided to chose a book from that list.  Also because I bought the entire series from a used book store since the books aren't available at my local library in any format at all.

 

It's probably about time I got started on making a dent in my TBR Bookshelf... a very small dent, but the beginnings of a dent, nonetheless.

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review 2014-05-10 21:22
Book Review: Graceling, Fire & Bitterblue By Kristin Cashore
Graceling - Kristin Cashore
Fire - Kristin Cashore
Bitterblue - Kristin Cashore,Ian Schoenherr

 

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.

 

GRACELING

 

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.

 

SPOILERS

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

 

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.

 

SPOILERS

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

 

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.

 

SPOILERS

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?

Source: mollymortensen.wordpress.com/2014/05/10/bookreviewgraceling
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