Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight - she's a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king's thug.
When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.
She never expects to become Po's friend.
She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace - or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away...
(Summary from GoodReads)
Graceling is considered a quintessential YA fantasy book. I’ve had it on my TBR pile for years, but only recently did I finally get around to reading my copy. I was amazed by Cashore’s worldbuilding and the adventure I found within this story.
Katsa’s grace is to kill, and this tends to put her in positions she doesn’t want to be in. Although she’s clearly a total badass, she also has her insecurities, and I loved how real that made her. In addition to being a fighter, Katsa is also incredibly smart, resourceful, and tactical, and I loved seeing how those skills played out throughout the story.
Po was a fantastic love interest. He challenges Katsa on so many different levels. I know some people take issue with how their storyline ended. The ending Cashore chose for the two of them was particularly feminist, and I respect Cashore for writing it the way she did.
I completely adored the storyline of Graceling. It was fast-paced, action-packed, and gave me a few, “Oh my gosh WHAT IF THEY ALL DIE?!” moments. Graceling has everything I think of when I think of high fantasy. If you haven’t already read it, what are you waiting for?
It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. The young King Nash clings to his throne while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. The mountains and forests are filled with spies and thieves and lawless men.-->
This is where Fire lives. With a wild, irresistible appearance and hair the color of flame, Fire is the last remaining human monster. Equally hated and adored, she had the unique ability to control minds, but she guards her power, unwilling to steal the secrets of innocent people. Especially when she has so many of her own.
Then Prince Brigan comes to bring her to King City, The royal family needs her help to uncover the plot against the king. Far away from home, Fire begins to realize there's more to her power than she ever dreamed. Her power could save the kingdom.
If only she weren't afraid of becoming the monster her father was.
(Summary from GoodReads)
Fire is a completely book from Graceling. While I believe it’s in the same world, it’s set in a different part of the world and earlier. Fire is also a very different character from Katsa. I enjoyed this read, but got lost in the political intrigue, and couldn’t connect as well with Fire as I did to Katsa.
Fire is haunted by the person her father was and is trying to find her place in the world. Much like Katsa, Fire has a power that many people want her to use for bad things, but unlike Katsa, Fire is not a graceling, but a human monster. Fire showcases Cashore’s lovely prose even moreso than Graceling, because Fire is a beautiful character. Her hair literally looks like fire and men are drawn to her. Cashore’s description of her was simultaneously enchanting and slightly terrifying.
I liked the storyline of Fire fine until we go the climax. By that point it was hard to keep track of where everything was happening. I loved the ending of this story because it was gorgeous and suited Fire’s character so well.
While I found Fire a bit more literary than Graceling, I didn’t quite enjoy it as much. If you are all over political intrigue in your YA fantasy, this one will be fantastic. It was great for me, but not as good as Graceling.
Eight years have passed since the young Princess Bitterblue, and her country, were saved from the vicious King Leck. Now Bitterblue is the queen of Monsea, and her land is at peace.
But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisers, who have run the country on her behalf since Leck's death, believe in a forward-thinking plan: to pardon all of those who committed terrible acts during Leck's reign; and to forget every dark event that ever happened. Monsea's past has become shrouded in mystery, and it's only when Bitterblue begins sneaking out of her castle - curious, disguised and alone - to walk the streets of her own city, that she begins to realise the truth. Her kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year long spell of a madman, and now their only chance to move forward is to revisit the past.
Whatever that past holds.
Two thieves, who have sworn only to steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck's reign. And one of them, who possesses an unidentified Grace, may also hold a key to her heart . .
(Summary from GoodReads)
Bitterblue is the toughest book in this series for a lot of readers, but it’s a rewarding read for those who stick with it. This story definitely has it’s fair share of action and political intrigue, but it’s also a story about pain, loss, confusion, and love. I honestly don’t know how I would pitch this book in terms of plot, but it made me really love Bitterblue.
If you’ve read Graceling, then you have an idea of who Bitterblue is, and this story is about how she tries to put her kingdom back in order. She winds up meeting two thieves and learning things she never knew about her kingdom, but she also lies to them about who she really is. It’s not really clear who she can trust from a political standpoint. This book is really about Bitterblue learning who she needs to loyal to and the sneaky things she does to find this out.
Perhaps what’s really cool about Bitterblue is Cashore does some interesting things with ciphers and codes. It shows skill as a writer to incorporate a complex code in your writing while still making me care a lot about your main character. Also? There is a lot of Katsa and Po in this book, and I loved seeing how their relationship evolved throughout the trilogy.
Bitterblue is an excellent, emotional fantasy novel, but I’m really not sure that I absorbed it all. To really appreciate it, I would have to reread this book at least once. On its own, though, it adds some nice depth to Cashore’s world while really developing some of the characters, so I’d say it’s a success overall.
Disclosure: I purchased hardcovers of all three of these books.