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Graceling Graceling by Kristin Cashore

I enjoyed this even more the second time around – it was fun to see the clues dropped for future plot developments, and to wonder what Bitterblue’s story will be about. A very nicely done full-cast audio version, with a good amount of music and a solid narrator. I wasn’t particularly enamored with the voice for Katsa, but most of the story is told by the narrator. I still think that I liked Fire better, but it’s best to read them in publication order (first Graceling, then Fire). Recommended to fans of Robin McKinley and the like.

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Perhaps my favorite thing about Flora’s Dare (by Ysabeau S. Wilce, sequel to Flora Segunda) is the language.  And not just the fake-swearing language, either (exclamations of “pigface!” abound).  The names are just as delightful as the first time around – I just met a character named Tiny Doom, which ranks up there with the Dainty Pirate.  Throw in a fantasy version of San Francisco (or at least that’s how it reads to me), magic and monsters, a city under the rule of the Birdies, a high rate of bacon and waffle consumption, a girl who’s outgrowing her stays, a kilt-wearing populace, an army general for a mother, a best friend taken over by the outlaw version of the red shoes (in this case, a pair of sparkly red boots with a five inch heel), and some stuffed pigs that I suspect of being more than they seem – well, sign me up.

I took my time getting around to reading it, though, and now I’m in a rush before it’s due.  And it’s a long one with a slightly meadering plot, like the first one.  Still, I couldn’t resist.  Pigface, I ought to be reading, not blogging.

On a different fantasy note, I’ve been listening to Kristin Cashore’s Graceling in the car – a full cast recording.  I’m hooked, even though I mostly remember how it all works out.  It’s fun to see the clues laid.  Unfortunately I’m not quite a fan of the voice for Katsa herself, but the narrator is great and as always the full cast deal makes it easy to tell who’s talking at any point.  Also, I knew that Cashore’s current project is called Bitterblue, but I’d forgotten exactly who Bitterblue was, so it makes for some nice imagining about which part of her story will be told in her own book.  Also, I’m appreciating the character overlaps between this book and Fire.  To mention them would be to spoil it – and I recommend them both.  Start with Graceling, then move on to it’s prequel, Fire.

I keep running across books that seem to pair up with each other strangely.  They’re not read-alikes, sometimes they’re more like opposites.  Some pairs would appeal to the same demographic, if books can really be said to have demographics.  Some have eery similarities, with others it’s all in my head.  I’ll spread them out over a few posts.

Kristin Cashore’s Graceling and Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight series:  First of all, the dissimilarites obviously outweight the similarities, if your feelings about Twilight et al are like mine – ie, strangely compelling but ultimately unsatisfying.  Graceling is satisfying, and the writing is much tighter, the words more carefully chosen, the character more complex and compelling and all those other com- words.  Warning: mild spoilers ahead.

But they have in common: characters with inhuman fighting capabilities – you bruise when you punch them, not the other way around.  Also, mind-reading and mind-control (the good characters mind-read, the evil practice mind-control, naturally).  Also, a romance, but that’s pretty much a given in these types of stories.  In both worlds, these super-human qualities are crucial for plot and character development.

In Twlight, they feel cheesy and theatrical, used for effect and narrative short-cuts.  One incredible fighting team faces off against another!  Who will survive!  I can read your mind, so I know I can trust you, but let’s have a confusing and lengthy one-sided conversation anyway!

In Graceling, the meeting of two incredible fighters leads not only to spectacular and entertaining action, but something we like to call character development.  Katsa is forced to think about the role these abilities play in her life.  How will she use them?  How does the fact that she can out-fight Po change their dynamic?  What about the fact that he can read her mind?  It becomes an important element in their relationship, never a cheap trick.  It’s something useful and something dangerous, and it’s never just a means to add sparkles and special effects to the story.  Oh, and Katsa and Po actually have a healthy relationship.  Ahem.

I couldn’t help but think, reading Graceling right after Breaking Dawn, that Cashore succeeded exactly where Meyers failed.  Of course, the stories are trying to do very different things in terms of world-building and plot and so forth, and they’re not at all read-alikes.  BUT – I think readers who liked the action and romance elements of Twlight, who don’t require vampires and also enjoy more kick-ass heroines, will find Graceling very appealing.

October 2022

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