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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.


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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text 2015-11-03 01:30
Recommend!
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 2015-10-27 18:21
Review: Fire by Kristin Cashore
Fire - Kristin Cashore

I'm not really a fan of this series. I read Graceling several years ago and remember being mildly impressed with Cashore's technical writing skills, but I felt that overall it lacked emotional power. Don't get me wrong, Cashore deals with some pretty heavy circumstances surrounding her characters, including parental abuse, neglect, and social isolation. The potential for leaving a lasting impression is just diluted by lots of melodramatic hand-wringing, plus phases of existential crises that I honestly can't imagine anyone really experiencing, at least not in the way Cashore depicts them.

One such example is Fire's angst over the inability to have children. Exactly why does this bother her so much? I know that the ability to reproduce is important to many women, and that Cashore is trying to explore the hardships someone like Fire would have to deal with. I just don't think it makes sense, given that Fire lives in a world that does NOT seem to value women solely for reproduction (as some patriarchal societies do), and Cashore still assumes out of pretty much nowhere that a woman will inevitably be perpetually distraught at the thought of not being able to become a mother. No other possible reactions are explored. It's kind of odd to write a female character like Fire in a world where she's given plenty of social freedom, but have her attitudes toward herself resemble what it would be like in a more patriarchal culture.

Which is weird, because I also think the biggest strength of this book is its psychological complexity. The shame that Fire is made to feel for her parentage and her identity was written very realistically, a kind of helpless defense mechanism against the paranoia of a society deeply damaged by her father's abuse of power. Children are not the same people as their parents, but are nonetheless often made to feel as if they are. Fire is constantly trying to set herself apart from her father Cansrel--who did, after all, love and nurture her despite being a monster to everyone else--even as she draws on the strength he gave her as a parent. On the other side of the story is Prince Brigan, whose childhood was turned into one of constant escape and survival as a result of Cansrel's influence with his father. There's one scene when a suspicious Brigan grabs Fire and corners her against a wall, threatening to kill her if she tries to seduce his brother. Normally I'd be super on guard toward this kind of violence from a man towards a woman because YA seems to enjoy painting it as romantic, but for me it served as a powerful reminder of how repercussions can extend over generations, and both Fire and Brigan's traumatic childhoods are given a lot of emotional heft in that scene. Brigan has lost some capacity to trust because he's been forced to fend for himself from a young age, and Fire is sick to death of getting labeled for someone she's not and being (sometimes actually physically) powerless to show people who she really is, and she already has a hard enough time trying to suppress her own insecurities.

The bad part? Moments like that are far and few in between. As the story went on, I realized I simply had to stop holding my breath for any sort of suspense or action because most of the conflict actually takes place in Fire's head. The major turning point in the novel happens as an epiphany, preceded by what's essentially a therapy session where all she does is talk over her feeeeeelings. I mean, ok, write that kind of story if you want, but make it in a more appropriate style and genre whose defining traits don't include the high action and large scope of epic fantasy. The central plot of this book revolves around a freaking war! At least have the big Character Development Moment happen through external circumstances, so we get a balance of plot and character development. Fire's internal tension isn't organic enough, in my opinion, to fully drive the story at its most optimal pace. And it comes at the expense of the secondary characters too, to have everyone around Fire constantly cajoling, comforting, begging, or helping her rather than being developed on their own as individuals.

Cashore seems to have created an interesting world. Granted, it isn't entirely original, but I think the scope of it is nicely suggested, even if Cashore's tendency to describe nearly every second of Fire's journeys everywhere in the kingdom falls into the common mistake of over-description. The part near the end with the future King Leck is a nice nod to the world of Graceling, although it's hard to appreciate it if you haven't already read Graceling. What I don't like about Cashore's world-building is that it's far too underdeveloped, because of the constant focus on the main character's emotional issues instead of trying to show how those emotional issues happen as a result of the people and situations around her. It's not consistently underdeveloped, there are times when the culture of the world really comes through in the characters like in the Brigan/Fire scene mentioned above, but sometimes I wonder if it would have been better if Cashore just left the setting alone instead of throwing in descriptions here and there. The False Prince draws the fictional world in fairly vague strokes in order to focus more on the interpersonal conflicts between the characters, to great (and consistent) dramatic effect. This book felt more as if it was stretched thin in some places and awkwardly bulked up in others, as if Cashore wanted a vivid setting one moment, then a more simple background the next.

Altogether, this book was...I guess a sort of "meh" experience. I see Cashore as an experimental writer, and I admire her attempts to let her characters and her story stand on their own, even with the possibility of audience backlash (which she has indeed received). I personally didn't find the loose sexual conventions of the story nearly as insulting as many readers did--I think it's sort of fascinating to have a world where casual, non-marital sex doesn't carry social stigma, and I don't understand why people interpret this as an endorsement on Cashore's part of people sleeping with each other left and right. Where this experiment fails is in character depth. Cashore doesn't explain very well why her characters keep sleeping around, there aren't really any sympathetic motivations. It also trivializes the characters' emotional lives to treat them as a source of drama rather than real, living, breathing people who might be more understandable to us if only we were given their side of the story.

And that pretty much summarizes my experience with this book as a whole. It's not deep enough. The drama needs to mean something. The existential crises of the main character need to be better connected with the world around her. We need more insight into how the setting works, how the people work. Either that, or pick up the speed and turn this into a fast-paced thriller or something of the sort. By the way, the story structure also needs work. I'm not even sure exactly what the climax is--the whole thing with Leck, or the rather underwhelming battle scene that is abruptly cut off and skipped to the aftermath for no reason? *shrug* So, add tone and atmosphere to the list of Things This Book Could Do Better On.

Anyway, after this I really have little to no interest in Bitterblue, despite the temptation of the lovely cover. Off now to dig through more worthwhile stories.

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