I feel like I’m going to turn off every single reader friend I have with this statement, but Graceling was the most disappointing book I’ve read since The Duke of Shadows. Again, a fantastic first half, and a lousy second half.
Katsa and Po were wonderful characters; it’s still very rare to see a fictional woman who’s so incredibly powerful, and a fictional man who has no problems with that. Things are carefully set up to provide some balance, but even so, Katsa will always be the more powerful. But the second half of the book is all survival adventure, which I found so tedious. Something about the character Bitterblue really rubbed me the wrong way (I hope this issue won’t survive into her book.) And I thought it utterly sucked that the plot put Katsa in the mothering position she had always vehemently rejected — complete with major sacrifice — even if only temporarily.
The prose was always a bit on the flat side — this made itself really obvious when I was initially listening to the audiobook, all the sentences in a row that start “she did this, she did that.” I didn’t mind when I was reading about Katsa and Po, but it failed in making the Katsa and Bitterblue sections interesting to me.
Fire on the other hand… although I didn’t find Fire and Brigan quite as brilliantly fascinating as Katsa and Po, this is one of the best YA books I’ve ever – well, listened to. I love the way Cashore sets up a fantastical situation and then really explores how it might affect a person. The moral dilemmas facing Fire are intense and not easily resolved.
The way sexuality is treated is fantastic — Fire completely owns hers, and it doesn’t control her. She has no trouble separating sex and love — or for that matter, affectionate love and romantic love. As an unwitting object of intense desire, she has clear ideas of who the right person for her would be, and she finds it in someone whose love is unselfish and not possessive. I often give YA books I’ve read to my teenaged niece, and I have no particular qualms about giving her romances, but I don’t think I’ve read a book that made me think, yes, yes, my niece must read this. All teenaged girls should read this. Make that all teenagers.