Friday, June 1, 2012

What We're Reading: Sequels again

Some of you read Graceling, by Kristin Cashore, for high school book club in February of 2011. I don't know how many went on to read Fire, Cashore's second book, which is not a sequel but a "companion" book, with events that take place about 45 years previous to those in Graceling. It's all different characters, except for one significant one: You find out more about the origins of the king of Monsea. Now, however, the true sequel to Graceling has arrived! Bitterblue continues the story, focusing on the new (very young) queen of Monsea, who is the daughter of Prince Po's aunt, Ashen, and her husband, the evil Leck.

I don't want to tell too much about any of these three books, because it would be so easy to spoil them for those who haven't read them. But here's a synopsis:

GRACELING: There are five kingdoms, and in these five kingdoms, occasionally a child is born with what they call a "grace." This is some special ability, and it can be as amazing as reading minds, or as ridiculous as being able to open one's mouth wide enough to put in a watermelon. These children are called "gracelings," and they are known by the two different color eyes they have, once their talent settles. Once it is known that they are gracelings, they are given up to be servants of the king of whichever kingdom in which they live. Katsa is the protagonist of the first book, and supposedly her grace is to kill. But she is working hard, behind the scenes, to prove that there is more to her than being King Randa's assassin, and in the course of her duties, she meets Prince Po, from the Lienid kingdom, who is also a graceling, although his grace is not immediately apparent. These two share a quest, and the rest of the book is about their journey towards it.

FIRE: There is also another land, unbeknownst to the five, that exists over the other side of the Great Gray Mountains--The Dells. In this land lives strange, monstrous versions of ordinary creatures--wolves, mountain lions, birds, all gifted with unnatural colors to their fur or feathers (bright pink or lime green or crimson) and likewise with the ability to control minds and fascinate their viewers. This is a big advantage to a predator, and merely an annoyance in something like a firefly or a kitten, but imagine a monstrous human with hair like flame and a mind and physical presence/appearance that captivates and controls everyone with whom she comes in contact. This is Fire, who is in her late teens when the book opens, and is about to meet and become involved with the greatest people in the land of the Dells--the king, his brother the heir, the other prince and princess--in order to help them win a desperate war against corrupt factions trying to take them down.

BITTERBLUE: Although some events from both books eventually come together in this sequel, this is primarily the story of Monsea and its young queen, Bitterblue, who is now 18 years old and struggling to take hold as monarch of a kingdom that has been under an evil spell for 35 years and hasn't really come out of it in the subsequent eight years of her reign. Bitterblue has to figure out how to let her people move on from their devastating past, while dealing with the fallout and acknowledging the problems, and it seems like no one wants to let her do this.

This was a really satisfying (though in some places difficult/emotional to read) sequel to two of my favorite YA fantasies. (Graceling was one of the "Teens Top Ten" books for 2009.) The ideas, the language, and the wonderful characters all kept me fascinated from start to finish.

For those of you who enjoyed listening to Maggie Stiefvater and Corey Whaley talk about their writing process, here is an article about Bitterblue from the perspective of Kristin Cashore's editor, Kathy Dawson, who, upon receiving the original 800-page manuscript, sent it back to Cashore with the advice to cut at least 300 pages--and start over from scratch! Imagine...

And here's a trailer. Check it out...

Finally--and I hope they will forgive me for scanning this in from the book--I would like to say how beautiful I found the maps and illustrations by Ian Schoenherr. They look like woodcuts, and perfectly enhanced the feel of the story.

1 comment:

  1. I have to confess that I was moved to tears - and anger - with the climax of Bitterblue. Tears because I didn't see this possibility, and anger because, in "reality", my reality, it could have been much, much worse. A light is cast on the human condition by this story, but not quite enough light to show how twisted we humans can truly be.
    Read this trilogy, and reflect on it, then let the bloggers know what you think.