This is a fantasy series that focuses on a different story and characters each novel. Some characters may cross over and be the main for more than one but the situation would be drastically different. I absolutely love this way of storytelling and think it allows for fresh and fun ideas, vastly different aspects of a fantasy world, and new and fun romances almost every story (if you are into that kind of thing!).
Here are my reviews for each individual novel which star rating wise are:
Graceling: 4 stars
Fire: 5 stars
Bitterblue: 3 stars
Winterkeep: 5 stars
This was not really what I expected but that doesn’t really make it a bad thing. This story was far more character and relationship driven than I expected it to be and much less focus on overall plot. Because of this, it took me a while to adjust and get into the story.
Graceling is a term for special people in the land of….I don’t know what its called. This land which is made up of various barely getting along countries. Gracelings are identified by their different color eyes and by their supernatural abilities (think mutant-lite) and can be used by the rulers of their nations against others. Katsa was born to the royal family of the Midluns and her ability is a dangerous one that allows her to kill with her bare hands. Katsa meets Po, a foreign prince who doesn’t fear her and might just be her match.
I really should have figured out that the plot was more romance focused when literally all the blurb talks about is Po but I didn’t put it together. For me, that made the first half of this book kind of meandering and slow. There is no solid villain or goal for half of this. There is a vague mystery that is pushed to the side for character interactions. I kept wondering what the hell was supposed to be happening and if we could get on with it.
However, once we did get on with it I was fully invested in the characters and the plot being not nearly that strong didn’t bother me in the least. The romance was lovely and if you like fantasy romance, I don’t see why you wouldn’t like this one (well…no spice but that can be forgiven). I loved Katsa as a character though I do hate to say this, because I HATE this term but she did seem rather Mary Sue-esque in the first half. It’s not until the second half that things get really interesting with her character when there are actual challenges. Po is hella charming and all the side characters are lovely.
Even when it dragged for me, the writing was engaging and I never felt the need to put it down and was always willing to pick it back up. It was just a slower journey than I expected.
I absolutely love the idea of Gracelings and LOVE that this series is about different characters because in a world with superpowers, I want to read about all the different kinds. I’m really looking forward to the rest of this series!
I had no idea what I was getting into in this sequel (prequel?) to Graceling. But I have decided I love the anthology format utilized here and with the Cinder series. It allows for fresh ideas, characters, romances, and in this case an entirely different ‘world’. This particular one completely worked for me.
Fire is the second book in the Graceling series but takes place abou 50 years before. We follow Lady Fire, a ‘monster’ in the neighboring country of the previous book that has been entirely cut off due to large mountain ranges (please look past that there are birds in both nations). Monsters are creatures that can manipulate through the mind, hunger for blood, and include animals of all kinds represented by bright and different colors. Fire has colorful hair and has to deal with the ability that she can control people with her mind and that almost everyone is drawn to her to the point of losing self control in some cases. Fire must deal with her powers and her father’s monstrous (in both ways it could be said) past when the kingdom asks for her help in an upcoming conflict.
I had such a good time with this book, the worldbuilding is simple but effective. The powers and problems presented are intriguing and fun but also have a serious thread. I was surprised and interested in some of the darker themes that this book analyzed. While Graceling was mostly a single ‘quest’ novel, Fire seems to follow a political intrigue in a country on the brink of war and definitely be a character driven story.
I loved Fire herself, who was interesting and likable. She walks a fine line with her abilities and often has to deal with more fallback than benefits since she does not want to take advantage. The book definitely asks a lot of morality questions with her powers. There were likable side characters everywhere and I even had a soft spot for one of the douchier ones, who’s relationship with Fire I actually loved because it called out an unhealthy dynamic.
I will say I was not on board for the 15 year old girl who seems ‘to date’ multiple older men. I guess we are going with a ‘morality is different here’ in this magical old kingdom but I found it ick in both cases since its statutory rape. (One again, at least called out, the other…) This book also does not shy away from mentions of rape, torture and abuse. And sexual assault is something that Fire has to constantly fear.
The central romance was wonderful and probably a huge reason I loved this book. It was the slightest of slight ‘enemies to lovers’. Is there a way to phrase that when they are less enemies and more one doesn’t like the other? Anyways, it was there and I loved it.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in a fantasy world with romance (fade to black due to YA ugh). But still.
I am so conflicted over this one because there are parts I LOVE but then there are things that just didn’t work for me and maybe I am comparing it more harshly against the other books of the series.
In this book we are back in the Graceling realm with Queen Bitterblue trying to navigate her country that still hurts in the wake of her father’s destruction. Bitterblue finds herself wanting to escape the confines of the castle and her limited view and starts to sneak out where she gets involved in a conspiracy that seems to be covering up her father’s crimes.
I think this was character strong and plot weak. The world building was already established though I think Cashore got some feedback that I also had which was give me so many more examples of Graces because we only saw a few in the first book. This one was throwing powers out left and right which was super fun. We get the return of some old favorite characters and their visits are definitely lively and fun. There are new characters everywhere as well that are quickly established and easy to like.
Bitterblue is a great lead who is naive and privileged in a believable way but still good and kind. I actually really loved seeing faults highlighted in someone that grew up with so much power and money instead of being like ‘look shes a perfect angel!’ It made her a dynamic and great character. The romance in the book is nice but feels temporary but that is something I think I like too! We don’t all end up with the same person when we are 18. Cashore seems determined to try out different relationships and dynamics in every book and I love it.
However, the plot felt flimsy and the conspiracy felt paper-thin. The ‘answer’ was so obvious that I didn’t think it was the case for most of the book because I thought that was too stupid. Bitterblue must have been completely disconnected from reality for the past 8 years for any of this to make much sense (like she never saw ANY of her castle before? What was she doing instead? Just paperwork forever?) and the complete reliance on information from a select few seems wildly irresponsible for her family to advise for her.
Also, this was super dark again. Mentions of rape, child abuse, child sexual abuse, and more that was deeply disturbing and very sad.
Overall, this was good. I was happy to be in the world again but it definitely had some faults. I also think it lost half a star cause I shipped something that didn’t happen but then…the next book! So maybe it will get upgraded.
This book was so fun! I love fantasy worlds that feel kind of like a playground. Can we have talking psychic foxes and a giant sea monster and pink colorful dolphins? Yep, and oh and make it steam punkish please!
In this new book, Bitterblue along with some of her trusted advisors including Giddon and Hava, travel to the newly discovered nation of Winterkeep for political relations. Things turn out more complicated than expected. We have four perspectives we follow including Bitterblue and Giddon. Lovisa, a Winterkeep native and daughter to political higher ups, is our POV for the nation. Then there is of course, a talking fox named Adventure. All try to find out the drama that seems to be unfolding right under their feet.
I’m loving the expansion of the Graceling realm into new worlds. It really keeps ideas fresh and is fun to see people experience things they haven’t along with us (we will again ignore how these people had no idea about each other despite having boats and even airships). The political intrigue was varied up here by introducing a democracy that finds its two party system not quite being nuanced enough to actually help the people. Cashore’s political comparisons are a little heavy handed but still interesting and definitely entertaining.
The romance in this book was what I was looking for in the last book and I loved it so much. I loved the dialogue (even the made up bits!) and the displays of love and respect throughout the story. I really liked this relationship which probably kept me smiling through any flaws.
Lovisa is a totally new character who was engaging and interesting. I liked that Cashore never shies away from the effects of trauma and that actually seems to be a huge part of her writing. The trauma and ‘action’ of a novel are in short bursts and what we are left with is what the characters are all dealing with after the fact. This is the case with Bitterblue and Lovisa here as well as hopefully Hava in the next book (I want it now!). I feel like a lot of author’s just wave away everything a character goes through once its over but in these stories you can see things that happened in the first book still cascading down into their emotions and behaviors. Its really good writing.
Anyways, I loved it. It was fun! I definitely recommend this series and really recommend more authors TRY THIS FORMAT.