Book Series Review: Graceling Realm

Title: Graceling
Author: Kristin Cashore
Date Published: October 1, 2008
Rating: 4.25/5 stars
Date read: January 30, 2020
Reread: yes

Graceling takes place in a world where some individuals are graced, meaning they are extraordinarily gifted at something. For example one can be graced with fighting, or cooking, or taking care of horses. We follow a young woman named Katsa who is graced with killing. She is an unwilling pawn in her uncle’s court, enforcing his brutal policies with violence. Unbeknownst, however, to her uncle she also leads the council, a group of individuals who run secret missions to improve the overall welfare of the continent. One secret mission leads her to rescue a beloved grandfather and she ultimately joins up with one of his grandsons, Po, to uncover the mystery behind his kidnapping. 

There’s a reason Graceling is still popular twelve years later, it’s a fantastic debut. Katsa is a strong female character in many different ways, she’s physically strong, able to voice her concerns, smart enough to get out of difficult situations, she sticks to her convictions, and while she has her insecurities, she strives to make herself better. She and Po make for a great team, they’re great at communicating, and make each other better. The side characters of Graceling are also well written and feel distinctive. The antagonist is especially great, we don’t meet him right away and yet his character is built up so well, and the dread and fear that surrounds him is so believable. The story is constantly engaging and I can’t image why this wouldn’t be a fantasy classic later down the road. 

Title: Fire
Author: Kristin Cashore
Date Published: October 5, 2009
Rating: 3/5 stars
Date read: March 6, 2020
Reread: yes

Fire is the second book in the Graceling series. Fire is a prequel/companion novel to Graceling and can be read without reading Graceling first (I personally have only ever read the books in publication order so I’m not sure which order is better). Fire follows a monster girl named Fire who has the power to control beings with her mind and actions. We, along side Fire, get caught up in the political turmoil of her world.

This was a reread for me and it was really surprising. The first time I read Fire it was my favourite in the trilogy so it came as a bit of a shock when I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much the second time around. I found Fire to be passive in her actions, and her childhood friend, Archer, annoyed me to no end. I still think Fire and her love interest are a fantastic couple who complement each other immensely and their relationship was my favourite part of the story.

Title: Bitterblue
Author: Kristin Cashore
Date Published: May 1, 2012
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Date read: March 31,, 2020
Reread: yes

Bitterblue is the final instalment in the Graceling series/companion novels. While Graceling and Fire can be read out of order, reading Bitterblue prior to the other two novels will definitely spoil you for the series. This review contains potential spoilers for both Graceling and Fire.

Bitterblue takes place several years after Graceling and we follow Queen Bitterblue as she tries to rebuild and heal her kingdom after the hardships faced under the malicious and uncompromising King Leck.

Graceling is a series that revolves around Leck. With Graceling Leck was this threatening, and disturbing figure, looming in the background and I enjoyed the sense of mystery revolving around his character. With Fire we explore Leck’s origins, and his motivations. And lastly with Bitterblue we explore Leck’s reign and the damage and trauma he inflicted on his people, and it’s dark, Leck is truly one of the worst villains I’ve ever read.

Kristin Cashore is a fantastic writer but, and I didn’t feel this way about either Graceling or Fire, I felt I wasn’t the correct age demographic for this novel and that there were often things hinted at that I thought obvious but that took Bitterblue ages to figure out. Bitterblue’s inner monologue wasn’t exactly exciting, and I really wasn’t interested in all the talk of ciphers and thought they bogged down the text quite a bit. As much as I wanted to connect to Bitterblue’s character, I really didn’t. I wasn’t too invested in any of the other characters though either, and while I did love seeing Katsa and Po again, I didn’t care about their conflicts. The one relationship that I was surprisingly invested in was that of Bitterblue and Giddeon. I really enjoyed seeing how much Giddeon matured over time and I thought his relationship with Bitterblue was very sweet. 

I also liked exploring the consequences of a country governed by a toxic ruler and difficulties endured in order to reverse the damage. I especially liked discovering Monsea’s history along with Bitterblue and thought that was a great addition to the world building.

This novel also contains one of my least favourite types of romantic conflict, that just annoys me to no end. I’m now of the opinion that Graceling is the strongest novel of the three, but if you enjoyed Bitterblue’s character in Graceling then I think Bitterblue is worth picking up.

Overall thoughts: It’s always surprised me to hear people say they’ve read and love Graceling and Fire but still haven’t picked up Bitterblue, but now that I know Bitterblue was published three years after Fire, I’m a lot less surprised. I’d recommend Graceling to any person who loves fantasy or who wants to get into fantasy and I think Graceling has aged very well. Whether or not to continue on in the series, however, I think depends on how much you like Cashore’s writing. I’m under the impression that I have an unpopular opinion when it comes to Fire, but am near the general consensus when it comes to Bitterblue. So if you’ve read Graceling and Fire and are debating about whether or not to read Bitterblue I say go for it!