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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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