Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Kristin Cashore”

Jen K’s #CBRIV Review #52: Graceling

Just under the wire. Picked this one up based on some recommendations from Pajibans/other Cannonballers. I’m surprised by how much quality literature is being churned out in the YA section of the book store. Although it helps when I’m only picking up novels after reading lots of raving reviews from intelligent adults with discerning tastes.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 27: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Amazon: “Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle–disguised and alone–to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

Two thieves, who only 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, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.”

Okay, I just impatiently barreled through the whole Graceling trilogy (as it currently stands — is Cashore planning a fourth? Or is she creating some new adventure? All I know is I want in) and I wish there were more! To me, Kristin Cashore is a total badass. I can’t believe it took me 3 years to hear about this series (thanks again, CBR4!) In this trilogy, she’s created three female protagonists with complete personal agency. They are flawed, of course, as all human beings are, but they are also sympathetic and relatable. I’ve made this point in my reviews for Graceling and Fire, so I don’t need to belabor it again, but it seems to be such a wonderful thing that an author has made it a priority to explore so many different women and make them real people.

Anyway — about Bitterblue. This was a very different story, thematically, from the prior two novels in the series. Whereas its two predecessors had a lot of adventure and travel and a more epic scale, Bitterblue was more focused on the political machinations of one kingdom viewed from the microcosm of her base town, Bitterblue City. It’s a bit more of a mystery and detective story rather than action-adventure, as Bitterblue (the character) works to undo the layers of deception that keep her kingdom in a state of apathy. As with both Katsa of Graceling and Fire of Fire, much of Bitterblue’s motivation has to do with setting herself apart from, and making reparations for, her father/predecessors. She is determined to do right, even as in her immaturity and inexperience she is forced to rely on a network of staff that have been selected for her, rather than by her, with her trust. For some readers, the smaller scope of this novel may make it less *exciting*, but I found it to be a refreshing change of pace — Bitterblue is the first protagonist in the series that is not Graced or gifted with some kind of supernatural power. Though she does request the help and expertise of her Graced friends, her strength is in her natural intelligence, empathy, persistence, and leadership.
Overall, I couldn’t recommend this series more highly to anyone.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 26: Fire by Kristin Cashore

As in all of my recent reviews, and especially the ones that people have already reviewed a few times for Cannonball, I’m going to Amazon for the 10-second plot summary before I go on to talk about other themes:”It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. In King City, the young King Nash is clinging to the throne, while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. War is coming. And the mountains and forest are filled with spies and thieves. This is where Fire lives, a girl whose beauty is impossibly irresistible and who can control the minds of everyone around her. “

I’ve seen Fire alternatively described as either a prequel or a “companion” to Graceling. Indeed, they are two separate stories in the same universe, but Fire does actually spoil Graceling a bit. Basically, reading Graceling first is recommended, not because either story is required for the other to make sense, but because a fairly pivotal reveal in Graceling is given away in the prologue of Fire with little fanfare. In any case, I surely enjoyed Cashore’s second foray into the fantasy universe she constructed for Graceling, and as with that novel, much of Fire‘s strength comes from its wonderful characters. I love that Cashore is seemingly relishing the opportunity to write as many different “strong women” as possible, while demonstrating that there isn’t some kind of mold that these women need to fit into in order to be considered “strong.” Within Fire alone, we meet Fire herself, Princess and Clara, members of Fire’s guard Musa and Mila, and more. All of these women are admirable, intelligent, capable human beings who are also obviously different, personality-wise, from one another.

I also love that Cashore does not shy away from some “political” issues. She candidly discusses birth control and abortion (without using those words, but there are explicit descriptions of herbs that can do these things,) and sex is treated as — shockingly! — a pretty normal course of action for relationships. Amusingly, on Amazon, this is always brought up in reviews as a “parents beware!” kind of thing. I understand to an extent; if there are really younger kids reading this, it may be a bit inappropriate, but as a slightly older “young adult,” I can only think it is a good thing that there is good literature out there that is encouraging these kinds of discussions and not pretending that sex doesn’t exist.

I only have one complaint about this novel, and it does involve the SPOILER FOR GRACELING. Basically, I kind of thought that the whole subplot with Leck was kind of unnecessary. It may be that Cashore’s intent was to weave this character into Fire in order to make the Graceling connection more obvious, but all things considered, his involvement added up to very little that couldn’t have happened in the context of the war that was already going on. For me, this subplot broke up the pacing of the rest of the book and was an unnecessary distraction from the more compelling story in the main plot.

Overall, I obviously liked this (I definitely wrote enough about it.) I’m going to stop reviewing so that I can tear into the final book in the series!

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 25: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

From Amazon: “Graceling tells the story of the vulnerable yet strong Katsa, a smart, beautiful teenager who lives in a world where selected people are given a Grace, a special talent that can be anything from dancing to swimming. Katsa’s is killing. As the king’s niece, she is forced to use her extreme skills as his thug. Along the way, Katsa must learn to decipher the true nature of her Grace . . . and how to put it to good use. A thrilling, action-packed fantasy adventure (and steamy romance!) that will resonate deeply with adolescents trying to find their way in the world.”

Thank you Cannonballers for clue-ing me in to this one! I really enjoyed Graceling and now have Fire and Bitterblue on hold at the library so I can dive into more of Cashore’s world. I loved the alternative takes on love and marriage presented here, as well as the fabulously nuanced and normal (well, inasmuch as supernaturally gifted royalty can be “normal”) female protagonist. This is the the type of “strong female character” I really like; there is a lot of discussion around the net if taking a girl, and giving her all “traditionally masculine” qualities and taking away anything “traditionally feminine” really makes a “strong female character,” or just the same kind of masculine character we are always supposed to root for, but in a dress. (Sorry for all the scare quotes in that last sentence. Geez.) Anyway, Cashore doesn’t do that here. Katsa is a fighter, and fiercely independent, strong-willed, and certainly no delicate flower, but she also loves, has maternal and protective qualities, and has deep, powerful emotions that she doesn’t care to suppress. She’s well-rounded, a complete human. It’s awesome.

And, on top of all that, the story is well-paced, gripping, well-written, and satisfying. Everyone does seem to live happily ever after, but not in the saccharine, cliched way we’ve come to expect. When YA is done well, it is so, so good.

Katie’s #CBR4 Review #32: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Title: Bitterblue
Author: Kristin Cashore
Source: library
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Series: Graceling|Fire|Bitterblue (you are here)
Review Summary: Unlike Fire, this is definitely it’s own, very enjoyable story with unique new characters.  I loved the first half at least as much as Graceling but the ending was very anti-climatic.

Although Bitterblue follows Fire in publication order, this book is actually a direct sequel to Graceling.  Young Princess Bitterblue has taken over as ruler of Monsea following the defeat of her evil of father.  Despite her advisers’ desire to forget her father ever existed, Bitterblue is doing her best to help her kingdom recover from his crimes.  She eventually begins to sneak out of the castle on her own to learn more about the state of the kingdom.  As she does, it becomes clear that her advisers’ have not been telling her the whole truth and may have ulterior motives for burying the crimes of her father’s reign.

Read more here…

Katie’s #CBR4 Review #30: Fire by Kristin Cashore

Title: Fire
Author: Kristin Cashore
Source: library
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Series: Graceling|Fire|Bitterblue
Review Summary: A little too similar toGraceling and not quite as good, but still an enjoyable read.

Although written second, Fire is actually a prequel to Graceling with only one character in common between the two books.  Like GracelingFire is the story of a young woman coming to terms with her own power, in this case the power to control the minds of others.  Known as “monsters” people with such powers are feared more than respected and Fire (our protagonist) has to decide whether she is willing to use her powers to help prevent the overthrow of the king by rebel lords.

Read more here…

Even Stevens’s #CBR4 review #6 – Fire by Kristin Cashore

Ugh, this book. Truthfully, I’ve been finished with it for a couple of weeks and have been procrastinating the heck out of the review (a rarity for me) because I just don’t want to revisit it. Fire is the companion to Cashore’s first (very excellent) book, Graceling. Now look, I know that books should stand on their own and not be compared against others, but I tore through Graceling, with its compelling story, great characters, and lively action. I expected a lot from this book based on the strength of the one that preceded it, and that made this book all the more disappointing to me, because good it was not. It should also be noted for anyone that enjoyed Graceling and is looking forward to more Katsa and Po (like me) that this is a prequel not a sequel… hence the word “companion” and not “sequel.” Yeah, I’m slow sometimes.

This book is odd from the start. It begins by introducing the early years of King Leck (a very interesting character from Graceling that I would love more information on) and how he controls the people around him, and then after the opening chapters, switches to the point of view of Fire, a human monster living east of the mountains. There are monsters in every species (cat, lion, dragon, mouse, etc), but Fire is the only remaining human monster. She possess fiery red hair that attract both humans and other monsters alike (the other monsters try to kill her, as monsters feed on the blood of other monsters). She can also enter and control minds, but refuses to do so because of the greedy, sometimes evil way in which her father before her used it. Her old friend Archer loves her but is unable to remain faithful to her, and as she travels the kingdom, she begins to forge another relationship with Prince Brigan, while also trying to stop a war by drawing out traitors and spies.

So let’s review: Protagonist with irresistible beauty? Check. Has two love interests? Check. Has a great power she refuses to use, instead spending much of her time in angst over pressure to use her power and leaning on the men around her? Check, check, and check. Yep, Fire is a Mary Sue. All. Day. Long. This is where the book really frustrated the heck out of me, because in the beginning Fire seems to be independent and assertive. She shows bravery and does what is best for herself, while trying to distinguish herself from her father (who was hated by many). Somewhere along the way, though, she becomes whiny, self-absorbed, and often plays the martyr, even when no one is casting judgment on her. It’s maddening to read.

Cashore also spends a large portion of the book discussing Fire’s monthly bleeding and how it holds everything up because it attracts more monsters. I appreciate that she took the time to address the issue (I think… I don’t know if I would have even thought about it if she didn’t bring it up), but really once is enough. In a story that already meanders like crazy, there’s no need to make the biggest consistency your protagonist’s period. (At this point I’m reminded of the line from Buffy the Vampire Slayer [movie version] “Great. My secret weapon is PMS. That’s just terrific. Thanks for telling me.” I’m sorry you have to see what goes through my head sometimes).

I think my biggest issue with this book is its missed potential. First of all, there are some very telegraphed “surprises” that belong in a telenovela, but do nothing for this story. Many of the plotlines feel stale and overplayed. King Leck’s mind control has the potential to be a riveting story, and yet we only get a glimpse of him here and there. Second, there is supposed to be a war brewing, and indeed many smaller battles break out, but rather than allowing the reader to get a glimpse into any battles, or strategy, or plotting or ANYTHING, we’re stuck with Fire moping about. Thirdly, there are some secondary characters that are probably very interesting. But again, how would we know? Fire gets all the page time, and somehow seems to regress rather than progress throughout the novel. It’s literally like she is spinning her wheels. Move on, already! Also, I can handle a good love story, but the dynamic between Fire, Archer and Brigan feels tacked on and forced; it is nowhere near the relationship developed between Katsa and Po (there I go comparing again, but they’re just better).

I’m not calling this a total wash and will add a star for the sometimes enjoyable side characters, but if you want to read a great novel, go pick up Graceling and do yourself a favor and stop there.

Even Stevens’s #CBR4 review #5: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Katsa has known since she was young that she had a Grace (a special ability and one that is marked by two different colored eyes) different from everyone else in her kingdom.  Some are graced with athletic talent, others are great cooks, but Katsa’s talent has always been the ability to kill.  Graced with speed and strength, there is no man, or any number of men, that can outmatch Katsa’s skills. Katsa ‘s uncle, King Randa, uses her skill set to enforce his law and punish anyone who crosses him.  As a mysterious kidnapping plot is unraveled, and a stranger named Po comes into her life, Katsa’s life takes a turn and she begins to question the role she has filled for so long.

The person who recommended this book to me boldy stated  “Katsa > Katniss.” As a big fan of The Hunger Games I was skeptical of this statement, but also intrigued, as there are few things I love as much as a kick ass heroine.  I don’t know that I would agree that Katsa is greater than Katniss, but she is certainly worthy of being called an equal.  Graceling is set in a world where Kings and kingdoms exist, and though it’s a fairly typical fantasy setting, Cashore manages to eschew most of the stereotypes of the genre.  The book starts right in the middle of the action, with Katsa rescuing a kidnapped prisoner, taking down several men in the process.  Cashore creates some great action scenes, but also constructs really interesting characters with depth and dimension.   Katsa is by no means a mindless killer, and from the beginning questions the morality of using her Grace to harm others.  I really liked that she was a strong character with an equally strong personality, but was also able to step back and consider situations and consequences.  Katsa is a a believable and thoroughly  enjoyable protagonist.

I was also a big fan of Cashore’s prose and storytelling.  She strikes just the right note, mixing action, mystery, and relationships, but never uses a heavy hand.  There is a love story, but her depiction of Katsa and Po’s relationship is balanced, with Katsa and Po being equals in all aspects, and while the relationship is important to the story, it never overwhelms it.  This book is a solid mix of adventure, action, and strong characterization and I would recommend it to anyone who likes a fun, intriguing read. It is technically fantasy, but like the best stories, it transcends its genre to tell a great story about its characters and how they handle the challenges they are faced with.  I can’t recommend this book enough.

DragonDreamsJen’s #CBR4 Review #22 Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Reviews for books #18-21 can be read on my BookHoardingDragon blog.

Graceling is the last of the novels that I picked up last fall at a Scholastic Book Fair.  When I complained to my oldest child that I didn’t know what to devour next, she pulled it off her shelf.  I was a bit skeptical as I started into the story by debut author Kristin Cashore.  Fantasy writing seems to divide itself into one of 2 categories, stories where the characters drag you in to a world that just happens to be made up and stories where the author takes a bit too much of a reader’s time to describe the details and setting of the marvelous and unique world they’ve created.  I was a bit afraid that Graceling would fall into this “map-based” category.

Graceling’s heroine, Katsa, lives in a world with seven kingdoms, where sometimes people are born with eyes that are two different colours.  This visible physical feature indicates the inner presence an extreme degree of talent, known as a Grace, that gifts such people.  Sometimes, it can be as simple as an extreme skill at baking or healing… but in other cases, it can herald a much darker purpose.  Katsa is Graced at killing, so she is feared by almost everyone as she does the bidding of her uncle, King Randa of the Middluns kingdom.  When she meets another Graceling with skills that seem to almost match her own, she is both challenged and unsettled, especially as they are both caught up in a deepening mystery that could threaten all of  the Seven Kingdoms.

Graceling caught me by surprise and drew me into the story far deeper than I expected.  The plot twisted in ways that I couldn’t predict, which I am often able to do with beginner novels.  The main characters grew and developed as the pages turned until I came to care deeply for what happened to them.  Though the ending was not what I expected, it was still  one that I could live with and add to in my own mind.  I far prefer this to the current marketing trend of leaving everything hanging to sell the next book.  In other online reviews for Graceling or her second novel, Fire, Kristen Cashore  seems to draw criticism for a radical feminist viewpoint.  I’m not sure that refusing to wrap up a tale with a Disney-like Happy Ending necessarily makes her a feminist… I just thinks it make her a writer that lets both her characters and the readers decide their futures for themselves.

Hardcover format, 471 pages, published in 2008 by Harcourt Books

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