kristin cashore

Review of ‘Bitterblue’ by Kristin Cashore (Through the Shelf Thursday #9)

TitleBitterblue
AuthorKristin Cashore
Genre: YA Fantasy
Description from Goodreads:

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.

Date I Finished Reading: January 4, 2013

My Rating: 3.5 of 5

My Review: (also on GoodreadsAmazon):

I really, really wanted to like this book, I truly did.  I LOVED Graceling.  It was the book that started my love affair with YA fiction not too long ago.  Then I read the sequel, Fire, and was not impressed.  But I loved the character Bitterblue enough in the first book, and respected Cashore’s writing, to at least finish the series.

In the last of the trilogy, we find Bitterblue, now on the cusp of womanhood, in full reign of her kingdom, but still trying to overcome the grasp that her father has held on the kingdom, and her, for so many years.  Is there conflict, yes.  Are there great characters, yes.  Do we feel for Bitterblue and her plight, yes.

But…(there’s always a but, huh)!

Cashore does a great job building up the past and how horrible King Leck was, but the conflict – now, in the present – never seems immediate enough.  I never felt like Bitterblue was in any real danger.  Because of this, I had to keep reminding myself that she was actually in her late teens, and not the same small child I had read about in the first book.  The conflict from her father in the past is strong enough to be real, but it just doesn’t work for me.  Cashore is never able to bring any real urgency.

Why?  One of the reasons is because the characters in the book (which are plenty) are stiffled inside the castle.  The majority of the book (the VAST majority of the book) takes place inside the castle.  There was a moment towards the beginning where Bitterblue wants to get out and explore the city, meeting new people, learning of secret plots, and it really helped the story move along.  The introduction of Saf as the love interest and mysterious rogue worked for me, but just when it was moving forward and I felt a little breathing room, everything moves right back into the castle.  So many characters crammed into the confines of the same space got crowded.  I think Cashore had a hard time as well trying to figure out what to do with them.  Saf, the one character I wanted to know more about, almost became a byword for the second half of the novel, with no real relationship built up between him and Bitterblue.  What gives!?!?

Maybe it was just too much.  The book did NOT need to be 500 pages long.  Cashore has a wonderful, witty dialogue with characters that came out in this book, that was enjoyable, but over time became unimportant because I lost track why I was reading.  At the end of the day it was a good book, worthy of the time.  I understand Bitterblue’s motives and what she is trying to accomplish.  There was resolution, I just don’t agree with the plot and storyline that Cashore chose to bring it about.

Have you read ‘Bitterblue’?  What did you think?

Review of ‘Graceling’ by Kristin Cashore (Through the Shelf Thursday #6)

Title: Graceling
AuthorKristin Cashore
Genre: YA Fantasy
Description from Goodreads:

In a world where people born with an extreme skill – called a Grace – are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of the skill even shedespises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him.

When she first meets Prince Po, who is 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…a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

Date I Finished Reading: Sometime in early 2010

My Rating: 4.5 of 5

My Review: (also on GoodreadsAmazon):

I started working on my YA novel (Maiden) in late 2008.  During all of 2009 I would go to the bookstore with my good wife on date night, strolling the aisles, looking at what was new in young-adult fiction.  I knew where my story was heading – strong female protagonist, set in another world with a medieval feel, fighting, castles and action.  Specifically, I knew that eye color was going to play a big part of the story line.

Everything in the bookstores back then was vampires, supernatural, dark…it was all the same.  Then I saw the cover for Graceling and instantly fell in love with it.  The first thought that ran through my mind, “That could be the cover to my book!”  I just HAD to read it.

I instantly fell in love with the world, the characters, and the story.  The idea that there are people that have a Graceling – an advanced skill or special ability – that were identifiable by eye color…very intriguing.

The action starts off early and the conflict is explained very well.  We know what Katsa can do, what she wants, what she doesn’t want, and inevitably, what she has to do.  The formation of the Council, to me, is a little forced, but necessary for the story moving forward.  Some of the travel scenes in the book, as they move from place to place, get weighed down and take too long.

Other than that, the story shines.  I feel like I understand Katsa and can relate to her.  Po is a fantastic character as a male hero/love interest and – I would wager – one of the best in recent YA literature.  Their relationship builds steadily and over time, it’s not forced, and the dialogue is wonderful.  One of Cashore’s gifts is that she is a wonderful writer and her personality comes out on the page.  She certainly has a unique voice!

There are many fight scenes throughout the book and Cashore handles them very well, not overly technical, helping them add to the story.  The side relationships and characters – which are few – are appropriate and add depth to the story without dragging it down.

The resolution to the book is also extremely satisfying.  We are not supposed to like Randa, her uncle King, and we don’t.  We certainly are not supposed to like the mysterious King Leck, and we don’t.  The way Katsa is allowed to overcome her own physical, emotional, and mental obstacles is real.

A great story with likable characters who overcome conflict to save the day – that’s exactly how a story is supposed to be.  But Cashore’s strong voice and ability to bring me into the story, that’s what makes this one extra special.

Have you read ‘Graceling’?  What did you think?