Kristin Cashore is another one of those writers whose work I adore. In her Seven Kingdoms Trilogy she creates a fantasy world unlike any other. Each book centers around a different teenage girl--all of them unique, complex, and strong in their own way. Here's a summary of each book:
Graceling: Katsa lives in the Middluns with her uncle, King Randa. Select people in the kingdom, those with mismatched eyes, are gifted with a "grace." The graces vary from person to person. Katsa's grace is killing. She can kill anyone with ease. Because of this, her uncle uses her as his own personal killing machine--something Katsa hates but accepts. On a mission for her uncle she encounters another Graceling, Prince Po. Together the two discover not only the treachery in their kingdom but also the truth about each other's graces. Then they stumble upon a lost princess--a little girl on the run named Bitterblue.
**This first books does well in defining the seven kingdoms. The setting has a fantastical, medieval feel that isn't overt or stuffy. And Katsa is an amazingly drawn heroine. She's not at all what you'd expect though. She's against marriage and doesn't always do and say what you think she should. Like many teenage girls, she fumbles her way through relationships and life. She's flawed. But rather than make her unlikable, her flaws just add to her complexity and help you to more clearly see her character development. The minor characters in this book are vividly drawn so that each are easily recognizable and their importance is clearly understood. And Prince Po is the perfect counterpart for Katsa. His charm and ease in life and with others will win you over. He and Katsa are one of my favorite book couples.
Fire: This book is set in the mysterious lands across the mountains from the seven kingdoms--the Dells. Here, beauty is hated because those who are beautiful, whether they be animal or person, can control the minds of others. They're "monsters." Fire is the last human monster. She hides out in the forest with her friend Archer, trying to stay away from those who would have her dead. Then she learns that everything in King City is in chaos. Rebel lords are trying to overthrow King Nash. Fire is drawn into the action and into the city. She meets the royal family and the alluring Prince Brigan and decides to help them save the kingdom from not only the rebels, but also from a familiar villian met in Graceling. Ultimately, Fire must learn to love herself and she comes to realize that she's not a monster--their's more to her than just dangerous beauty.
**While Fire's quest is largely an internal one, the action in this book isn't lacking. Her world is distinct and well-conceived. Fire's love for two different men, her best friend Archer and Prince Brigan add a romantic richeness to the story that has you rooting for Fire to have a happy ending. The mysterious villain from Graceling is an intriguing element of the plot that smartly connects the two books and sets the stage for the final installment.
Bitterblue: This story takes place eight years after the events in Graceling. Bitterblue is now the Queen of Monsea. She's trying hard to rebuild her kingdom and heal them from the aftereffects of her violent father, King Leck. Leck was a graceling that altered the minds of his people and bent their wills to his liking for over 30 years. While her advisers think the past should be forgotten and everyone who committed a crime under King Leck's spell should be pardoned, Bitterblue disagrees. She starts sneaking out of the castle in disguise in an attempt to learn about her city and how to best to help her people. There she meets Saf, a thief who steals to right the wrongs of Bitterblue's father. Saf opens up Bitterblue's eyes and challenges her views of the world. Slowly, Bitterblue begins to unravel the clues and mysteries that still plague her kingdom. She feels the only way to move forward is to learn about and from the past. In the end, Bitterblue figures out Leck's evil secrets and discovers how to get her kingdom on the path to healing. She also starts finding her way as queen by standing up for herself and for what she believes in.
**Bitterblue is such a refreshing character. While Katsa and Fire were unique for being gifted, Bitterblue stands out by just being normal. The unraveling of her father's many secrets is smart and intriguing. The discovery and feelings of first love and coming into womanhood are a nice journey the readers get to take with Bitterblue. And the bringing together of the characters from the first two novels gives this last book a nice note to end on.
Again, I can't recommend these books enough. Cashore's imagination is something to be envied. Her female characters are by far the strongest I have ever read and I love the feminist themes throughout. These women are partakers in their own sexuality and their journeys of love are realistic and relatable. Companionship and marriage aren't written as important parts of becoming a woman but rather as another option in life. Once you start these books you won't stop until you're done!
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