One of the challenge categories on the Modern Mrs Darcy book challenge is a book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller. I have to admit that I’m slightly fudging the boundaries on this one by taking a very loose definition of the word ‘local’, but the #AskALibrarian hashtag on Twitter made this trilogy pop back into my head.
I’m also not sure if I can count as fulfilling a criterion for the challenge a book I read earlier in the year that a librarian subsequently recommended to me, so I think I’m cheating on all counts here, but what I’m trying to say is that I wanted to talk about the Graceling Trilogy, by Kristin Cashore. I read these in March, one after the other, almost.
All three books are set in the realm of the Seven Kingdoms, where certain people are Graced – born with special powers. Their Grace is marked by their differently coloured eyes, and each of the seven kingdoms deals with Gracelings differently. Katsa, the heroine of Graceling, is Graced with the power of death – ever since she was a little girl and killed a soldier, she has lived a life as a mercenary of the king, her uncle. Until one day she meets Po. Another Graceling, with the Grace of combat, she has no idea how meeting him will change her life.
Fire, the second book in the series, is not a sequel to Graceling. In actual fact, it takes place many years before Graceling does, so it’s a prequel of sorts. It’s marketed as a companion, though, and I think it does make more sense to read them in publication order. Fire is set in the Dells, a country quite apart from the Seven Kingdoms, but it does concern one major character from Graceling. Bitterblue, then, the third book, takes place after Graceling, and in another of the seven kingdoms and could be considered a direct sequel to Graceling. There’s a lot to like about all three of these books. They’re well-written, with interesting world-building and a variety of characters both male and female whose skill and appeal lies not only in their physical appeal. There were interesting and normalising references to things I think are important, like periods and not necessarily wanting to get married. These three books weren’t bad, and Graceling tipped over into good.
I didn’t love them though. I didn’t have the same kind of delighted glee at reading them that I have at other YA fantasy books this year. I don’t think I would bother to re-read them, although I wouldn’t have any issue in recommending them, either. Bitterblue, in particular, the main character actively frustrated me, because she seemed to have no idea what was going on in her own home. A lot of the time the pace of the story was slow, and I ended up almost bored in parts of the second and third books. Graceling as a standalone works very well, and I would not hesitate to recommend, but Fire and Bitterblue, I would be a bit more hesitant. Certainly they’re worth reading if you loved the first, but I don’t think they stood up to Graceling’s appeal.
I think the most telling thing about this trilogy is that now, five months after I read them, I can remember very little of the plot, or the characters. They just didn’t stand out to me, or lodge themselves in my mind in the way other books (The Girl From Everywhere) have. It’s definitely not a bad trilogy, and I wouldn’t harbour any negative feelings about it. But it’s not a great, or a memorable trilogy, really. Just another fantasy series.