Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Graceling Realm Edition

Oh, Kristin Cashore.  I love your books, so I am happy that they are each in the neighborhood of five hundred pages...but they wreak havoc on my strenuously-paced and totally self-inflicted reading goals for the year.  Never fear, friends, I read for four solid hours on Saturday night (instead of doing other work...but it will get done by the time it needs to be done.  I just may not sleep as much this weekend as I usually try to when I have the chance) and finished Bitterblue, so I could at least count two books for this week!  And really, they were excellent--if you've been following this endeavor all year, you'll know what a big deal it is for me to invoke the name of The Scorpio Races in a review.

What I Read This Week:

 Fire (Graceling Realm, #2)Fire by Kristin Cashore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't know how to write this review. I don't really know how to explain what this book is about, because it feels like lived experience rather than plotted fiction. I haven't cared this much about a protagonist since Puck Connolly of The Scorpio Races, which is a really, really difficult line to come up to. (What do they have in common? They love their horses, and they love men who love horses. I hadn't thought of that till just now, but it's true.) This book was disorienting, because I never felt like I had a handle on the plot--there wasn't a race or contest to win; no one really needed to escape from anywhere, except once, but that went pretty quickly; the fundamental rules of society weren't about to be overhauled. Instead, we got Fire: a young woman with exceptional beauty and unusual abilities, trying to work out one piece of her life after the next (What does it mean to be part of a family? What are the ethics of war? What obligations does a person have to herself, her friends, her loved ones, her country?). And...we get to work through them with her. They don't always come conveniently one after the next, and they are never easy things to work out. But always, always, I was willing to follow Fire as she worked them out. I think I said something similar in my review of Graceling, but after reading this, I almost feel as if I know what it is to be under the influence of Fire's power. (I almost missed my stop on the train at least three different times reading this book! That never happens to me!) Kristin Cashore is an extremely gifted writer. Her works require patience and time, to be sure. But the reward is so intensely wonderful that I have to encourage you to read her books. There is plenty of action and romance, but it unfolds slowly at times (and then, overwhelmingly, all at once--as I guess it does in real life, when it happens.) Don't go in expecting something paced like The Hunger Games--Cashore has her own rhythms, which are part of what I love. Lean into the writing. Trust it. Love the characters. Suddenly you'll look up and realize you've been reading for two hours. This is storytelling at its finest.

Bitterblue (Graceling Realm, #3)Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found Bitterblue to be a wonderfully satisfying continuation of the stories that were told in Graceling and Fire. It is a more direct sequel to Graceling, of course, but having just been blown away by Fire, I was happy to get some more information about those characters as well. I really adored Bitterblue as a character--when I put them all side-by-side, I think I like Bitterblue the best of Cashore's three heroines, even though I still feel most committed to Fire. Bitterblue feels younger and somehow more like a traditional fantasy heroine. I especially love the way she thought about relationships, and trying to understand the different ways people related to each other.

I'm going to be hard-pressed to review this one without spoilers for Graceling and Fire, and there will be light spoilers for Bitterblue itself, but I'll try to be careful with those.

I'm sure Saf is going to be a very popular character; he seems to have the rakish charm and emotional ambivalence that makes for a superstar YA love interest. However, I have to say, I rooted for Giddon throughout the book, and I'm hoping for future books that bear this out. Poor lovely Giddon, can't anything ever break your way? And he would be so good for Bitterblue. (I loved her revelation, upon meeting Fire, that it was possible for a couple to be together for nearly half a century without anything horrible happening. That comment shows some real genre awareness, and it pleased me almost as much as it pleased Bitterblue.)

Raffin and Bann continued to delight me. I want a book about Raffin and Bann and Giddon and Po. They are all such dear, lovable boys who can grow up when it is required of them, but can also quarrel over beans and vomit-inducing medicines that would do the Weasley twins proud.

As of right now, it doesn't seem that Kristin Cashore has said anything publicly about what else might be in the works, and who can blame her--but I can say for sure that if and when her next book comes out, I will be pre-ordering my copy the day it goes on sale.

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