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review 2016-09-09 21:06
Graceling - Kristin Cashore

I really enjoyed this book! Graceling is the first book in the Graceling Realm series by Kristin Cashore. Our main character is Katsa. She has been gifted with the Grace of killing. In this world people who are gifted with Graces are looked down upon, at least where Katsa grew up. Graces are basically superpowers that develop in childhood and turn your eyes different colors.

Due to Katsa having the Grace of killing people, she has been the King’s thug since she was young. Katsa is sent out to do horrible things to people for the King and she hates every second of it. Her way of rebelling is to take part of the Council. This is a group of people that do good things for others in their world, which most of the time would thwart the plans of the rulers of the world.


During a council mission, Katsa meets another person with a Grace, Po. Po is from another kingdom and is trying to solve the mystery of the disappearance of his grandfather. Po and Katsa align against a common enemy and become friends. During their journey to figure out what is really happening with Po’s grandfather they develop a deep rooted relationship that has to stand the test of their trials.

I really enjoyed this book. It was shelved and described as young adult, but there is an adult scene or two that would make me argue otherwise. I liked Katsa’s resilience and her final determination to stop being the King’s bitch and do what was right for herself and the people of the world. Katsa’s Grace was a bit annoying at first, but once we got to read about what her Grace really was, I was all in.


Side character development was fascinating. I really loved reading about all of the people Katsa and Po met, as well as the different lineages of each royal house! I loved and hated so many people in this book! I won’t give any spoiler’s away, but this book definitely made me think about what Grace I would want to have. One of the people’s Grace’s in this book is horrifying and I loved every second I read about it.


Overall, if you are looking for a book with a historical fantasy feel laced with superpowers and treachery, look no further! This book had me up all night reading, just to find out what was going to happen next. The romance between Katsa and Po helped with that, but honestly it was well written and developed enough to suit my interest.

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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text 2015-11-03 01:30
Graceling - Kristin Cashore

This book is by far one of my favorites! It has the perfect mixture of action and love, not to mention the main character is legendary as far as kick-ass women go. I also love the storyline and overall idea behind the story. It's very creative and different and that's always nice to come across considering people hardly have an original thought nowadays. Overall just a really good book that I know a lot of people would enjoy reading that will empower you.

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review 2015-08-12 18:49
Graceling: A Review
Graceling - Kristin Cashore

This has been an interesting week to say the least. The past few days I've desired nothing more than to stick my nose in a book and leave it there.To get lost for a time in any world but this one.


It could be my current state but Graceling was just kind of a meh read for me. The book follows a young woman named Katsa who is graced with the art of fighting. Those that are Graced are basically just people with a particularly strong skill at one thing and they also have really cool eyes. So a person could have a fighting grace that makes them ridiculously good at fighting. Or swimming. Or reading peoples minds.


In some parts of the world, the Graced are revered and in others people are terrified of them. Katsa lives in a land where they are scared of her and for good reason. Employed by the King of her land, he basically uses her to go beat up people and break limbs. She also has a really crappy attitude which doesn't lend itself to her being very well liked.


I say she has a crappy attitude but what I really meant to say was holy crap, she was one of the most infuriating, abusive, illogical characters I've ever come across. I understand this trend of having really strong female characters. I welcome it and it's nice to see, but this was the wrong way of going about it. Katsa was so entirely against anything feminine to the point that it almost felt like I was reading a pamphlet for 'How to Lose Touch With Your Feminine Side Forever ' with a slight sprinkling of 'How to be an Abusive Jerk!". Dresses? Nope. Long hair? Nope. Marriage? Nope. 'Cause like, I don't want to be tied down, even to someone I love. I'll never get to be me if I marry. I'll have to be responsible for someone else and even if they love me they'll stop me from adventuring! Woe is me! Children? Nope. Again. I'd have to dedicate my life to something other than myself. Being nice? Nope!


Now don't get me wrong. I understand where she is coming from on some of this stuff. I'm a pretty selfish person at this point in my life. Marriage and children are really on the back burner in my life as there are different things that I prioritize at the moment. Heck, they may always be on the back burner. There is nothing wrong with that. Her reasons for everything just felt very silly. Okay, so you've killed people for your King and lived under his thumb all your life and now you're going to use that as a crutch to be a really mean person and

punch the people you love in the face

(spoiler show)

and deny yourself the pleasure of doing the things you couldn't have done while living under the thumb of an oppressive King. Alright. Whatever floats your boat, Katsa.


I guess I have a really hard time not comparing characters like this to Vin from the Mistborn series. That delicate balance of having powers, a strong personality and balancing it all with being a woman and being okay with that side of yourself was handled so well that I instantly shoot to that for comparison.


Also, the bad guy...Why was he bad? We don't know. We never find out motives other than he's just evil for the sake of being evil. Guess you got to have someone to fight against and it isn't worth giving them motives. He had such an interesting Grace too that had that been expanded upon, it would have made the last half of the book amazing!


The world building suffered in the same sense that it just didn't have enough meat. There was the bones of an interesting world, but every opportunity that arose to build on it was skipped over in favor of dialogue and characters. This isn't always a bad thing, but I personally think more world building would have made the entire book a lot better.


Overall, I enjoyed Graceling for the things it did right. It had some interesting characters, an intriguing plot and a few cool moments. It's lack of world building really hurt the story and made the motives of some of the characters really unbelievable. I can't say I'd recommend it to a friend, but if it happened to fall in your lap it would be a good way to pass a weekend.


The Short


+ The Graces were a cool concept

+ There were a few really likeable characters (Po, Bitterblue...)

+ The cover art is really pretty


- The story was lacking in the world building department.

- Katsa was infuriating.

- At times it felt like I was reading a book about the advantages of never getting married or having children.

- The villain had a really cool concept but was entirely devoid of motives. Since he didn't have motives, I didn't have a strong reason to hate him. This made the whole story feel rather pointless.



3/5 Stars



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text 2015-08-06 18:00
Reading progress update: I've read 116 out of 480 pages.
Graceling - Kristin Cashore

Katsa, my dear, I hereby declare that you need to consume a very large chill pill. Seriously, like woah! Just calm yourself down and quit hitting stuff!


Not quite sure how I'm feeling about this one yet. There are some intriguing things but I don't feel fully drawn into the world just yet. There seems to be a lot of crucial world building that is missing and it's making everything feel blah. I'm just gonna hold back on any further judgement until I finish the book.

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