I was all set to review Bitterblue, the third Seven Kingdoms book by Kristin Cashore, when I realized that I hadn’t written a review for book one: Graceling! Graceling was written before Fire, but it’s set roughly 30 years after the events of Fire. There’s even a character who crosses over from Fire into Graceling. If you keep your eyes peeled, see if you can catch him.
The Plot: In the world of the Seven Kingdoms, some people are born with two different colored eyes. They’re known as Gracelings, and they have special skills. Some people are Graced with cooking, some with long-sight, or incredible aim. Some are skilled with holding their breath or swimming.
Lady Katsa is Graced with killing. Her Grace announced itself rather suddenly when, as a child, she accidentally killed her grope-y cousin.
Katsa’s uncle, the King of the Middluns, wastes no time in exploiting his young niece’s talent for killing, and uses her as a living weapon to enforce his reputation as a bully among the Seven Kingdoms. Katsa doesn’t know how to break free of her uncle’s influence, but she tries, in her own small way, by creating the Council–a group of lords, soldiers, tenant farmers and merchants who try to right the wrongs caused by the five selfish kings of the Middle Kingdoms. One night, on a mission for the Council, Katsa meets Prince Po of Lienid–the seventh kingdom, and an isolated island. Po is graced with fighting. As Po and Katsa become fighting companions, then friends, Po helps Katsa find the strength to walk away from her uncle.
Unfortunately, the trouble doesn’t end there. Po and Katsa embark on a long journey to unravel the strange web of tales that surround Leck, the King of Monsea–the sixth kingdom, isolated by a mountain range. The more Po and Katsa learn more about Leck and his kingdom, the more they realize that there is something deeply sinister about the one-eyed king.
The Characters: Katsa starts off the book like a wild animal–violent, uncivilized and unpredictable. Her character arc, as she becomes less wild and more like an actual human, is fascinating to watch. Part of the reason she’s so wild is because people (most notably her uncle) expert her to be wild.
Po (sweet, lovable Po!) helps bring Katsa out of her wild shell and civilize her (partially. Not even Po could civilize her completely).
There are a few other characters–some who make appearances in the other books (such as Princess Bitterblue herself), but Katsa and Po are the true main characters and this is absolutely their story.
The Good: Po! and Katsa! and Po and Katsa together fighting and learning to fight and discovering their Graces!
The Bad: There were times when my attention wavered and the action, though interesting, kind of lagged, but generally it was a solid book. The ending was a little anticlimactic as the villain was disposed of… really quickly and easily.
The Verdict: I love Graceling more than Bitterblue (the third book, and the next up for review), but not as much a I love Fire–mostly because Fire as a character is more interesting to me than Katsa is. Plus Leck is really gross and he’s in less of Fire than he is in Graceling.