Years have passed since Graceling, but the seven kingdoms are in only marginally better shape. Bitterblue was only a child when Katsa and Po saved herYears have passed since Graceling, but the seven kingdoms are in only marginally better shape. Bitterblue was only a child when Katsa and Po saved her and helped her take her throne, and although she has now reigned for over a decade she worries that her kindgom is still reeling from the atrocities committed during her father's rule. Her father's Grace was to make anyone believe his lies, and he pushed that power to its limit, by hurting people and telling them that they weren't in pain, erasing and changing memories, and countless other atrocities that still scar the minds and hearts of his entire kingdom. Bitterblue has few memories of her childhood with her monstrous father, and she wants to know what he did so she can make up for it somehow. But her counselors are too damaged to answer questions--if she asks, they withdraw into panic attacks or drunken binges. The records are no use, because he burned them or had them rewritten. As she delves deeper into the past, Bitterblue finds more and more things that make no sense: her father had impressive bridges built where none were needed, prisoners disappear from their cells, gargoyles are stolen from atop the castle while she watches, but when she asks about them, there's no record or remembrance that they were ever there. Bitterblue wants to heal her kingdom from the last 35 years of terror, but since no one will admit to knowing anything about what happened, she doesn't know how. Through cyphers, hidden tunnels, disguises and unlikely friendships, the truth begins to emerge.
Just absolutely fantastic. Cashore has a style of writing that pierces me to the heart: very sensible and matter-of-fact, but deep and true in her way of conveying feelings and relationships. The mysteries are truly mysterious and creepy. The dialog is natural and easy. The side characters are fabulous, particularly the librarian, who has an eiditic memory and a tendency to give Bitterblue books with titles like "Monarchy is Tyranny". I love the way Cashore weaves together the characters and events of Graceling and Fire; it all hangs together perfectly. I wish this book could have been a thousand pages longer, and I hope Cashore writes more, particularly in this world....more
I am used to fantasy novels and Regency romances that star wealthy nobles and royals who have tragic pasts and presents and yet still, are afforded aI am used to fantasy novels and Regency romances that star wealthy nobles and royals who have tragic pasts and presents and yet still, are afforded a great deal of respect by virture of their fortunate birth. And no one ever ponders where the money for noble Lord So&So's splendid balls, or feisty orphan Lady Such&Such's swashbuckling tour of the world, comes from. This book takes that subject head on, and delves even deeper, from a glittering steampunky world teetering on revolution into a mystical, allegorical land.
Taking this journey are two unmagical humans, Aude and Jehan. Aude is a lonely young heiress, with a quick mind, strong sense of compassion and very little experience in the world. When she comes of age, she convinces her guardian to help her tour her factories and estates, in hopes of discovering why she has so much and others have so little. As a titled, unmarried young girl, Aude is afforded with respect but little actual authority. To help her, then, she enlists the guardsman Jehan, who is initially furious to be taken away from patrolling the city. (This first half of the novel deals a great deal with classism, capitalism, and sexism, though it never felt heavy-handed.) They finally reach the hut where Aude's ancestors first started accruing their wealth. The jumbled, yellowing papers Aude finds are no help--but then a great wind pulls her into the afterlife, to pay for a long-ago deal made by an ancestor.
The servants of the Grass King don't care that Aude didn't make the deal, they just want her to fix the matter. The Grass King's servants are confusing, contradictory, sometimes kind and sometimes murderous, and Aude tries again and again to escape the strange prison she finds herself in. Jehan, meanwhile, travels through the world Between in hopes of finding Aude once more.
The language is beautiful, the characters unique and memorable (my faves were the ferrets Yelena and Julana, whose alien viewpoint is fascinating to read), the magical underworld suuuper creepy but also dreamy, like an earthier, scarier version of Beauty&the Beast's castle or Sleeping Beauty's thorn-covered castle. The magical and spiritual system was wholly new to me--unlike almost every other fantasy novel with a created pantheon, I really was as lost as the viewpoint characters, and couldn't cheat by knowing (for instance) that "Mr. Wednesday" was probably Odin. I was completely enthralled and entranced and transported by this book. I only wish it was thousands of pages longer, somehow. I put off reviewing it for weeks because I know there's no way I can convey how wonderful it is, or how much depth there is to every part of it. Go read it and see for yourself!...more
This book begins very dry and builds tension very, very slowly, but the increasing excitement mirrors the growth of magic in England. I loved the slowThis book begins very dry and builds tension very, very slowly, but the increasing excitement mirrors the growth of magic in England. I loved the slow progression of the plot, I loved Clarke's pointed wit, and I loved the characters. ...more
Sunshine is a young baker who makes incredible cinnamon rolls, dates bikers, and lives in constant danger in an alternate US. In her world, vampires,Sunshine is a young baker who makes incredible cinnamon rolls, dates bikers, and lives in constant danger in an alternate US. In her world, vampires, weres, witches and fey are all real...and humans are always at their mercy. Only by sticking together and plastering themselves, their dwellings, and even their motorbikes with protective charms can humans even survive a day. Given this, Sunshine is understandably upset when she's kidnapped as bait by a group of vampires. ...more
I read this when I was young and disgruntled, reading two or three books a day to avoid talking to my classmates. It was basically the perfect time toI read this when I was young and disgruntled, reading two or three books a day to avoid talking to my classmates. It was basically the perfect time to read this story, which tells the tale of a young woman who is not understood by her people and is deeply unhappy about it. And when I read this, it was one of very few books that spoke to me in a voice I could actually empathize with. All the other fantasy I was reading featured boys tramping across pseudo-English countryside before being crowned as kings--and instead, here was an awkward, stubborn, hard-working girl who wanted to be able to value herself and prove her worth.
Aerin grows up knowing that unlike her royal family, she's ugly, has no magic, and is distrusted by the people they rule. She inherited her low-born mother's looks but not her rumored witching power: the worst of both worlds. When we first meet her, she recently cut off a spiteful cousin's luxurious eyelashes. She tricks another cousin into teaching her swordplay, then spends hours upon hours practicing, knowing that she has no natural talent for it but refusing to give up. She spends three years experimenting with potions until she finds one that protects against flame. And then she goes out into the world to kill dragons. But in this kingdom, dragons aren't monstrous beasts--they're vermin. Killing dragons is considered a bit like catching rats. When she's called Dragon-Killer, it's as much a taunt as a title. Needless to say, tween-me adored Aerin.
Reading it now, after an extra decade of socializing and reading other fantasy books, Aerin and her lifelong quest to be a good and useful person is still wonderful, but less of a revelation. I love how much of her success is due to sheer hard work and determination, an indomitable drive to prove herself that overcomes her innate flaws. But although her early victories are her own stubborn will, her final victory (view spoiler)[over her late mother's evil brother (hide spoiler)] seems like she lucked into it. She literally wins by accident. It's frustrating! That said, I can see where McKinley subverts fantasy tropes more clearly now. It's Aerin's perseverance and hard work, not what she's born with, that make her a hero. The most beautiful girl in the kingdom has dark hair and skin. The heroine loves two people at once, and no one thinks it weird or wrong. There's infrastructure to rebuild after the climactic battle. Instead of showing how foppish and out of touch the court is, their council meetings about provisions and treaties are actually important. etc.
And the writing is, at times, truly fantastic. The descriptions of Maur, so huge he is indistinguishable from his mountain, so malevolent that even keeping his skull as a trophy brings despair to the kingdom, stuck with me all this time. Aerin's relationship with her nurse/maid, Teka, always feels real. The battles with the dragons kept my eyes glued to the page.
I only wish that McKinley had let herself write more of this book. Time and time again, summaries of what Aerin learns or does are provided in place of the action. Aerin's education and love affair with Luthe seem to take place in 10 pages, when they could be 100. This book is only 227 pages long; if it were twice as long, it would only be better.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
The first, and one of the very few, books that has ever reconciled me to Arthurian myth. After slogging through hideous Victorian sentimental priggishThe first, and one of the very few, books that has ever reconciled me to Arthurian myth. After slogging through hideous Victorian sentimental priggishness everywhere else, this is a breath of fresh and magical air into a tired story. ...more
The book is set a dozen or so years after Swordspoint, one of my very favorite fantasy stories. Alec Campion, the Mad Duke of Tremontaine, summons hisThe book is set a dozen or so years after Swordspoint, one of my very favorite fantasy stories. Alec Campion, the Mad Duke of Tremontaine, summons his young niece to the city. He promises to alleviate her family’s financial situation if she’ll obey his one command—she must dress only in men’s clothing and learn to fight. There are many fantasy books about young, naïve girls who learn to swordfight and defy convention, and most of them are terrible (even the Alanna series has some serious faults). This is not one of those books. Kate is initially far from pleased at her new situation, and the gradual growth of her appreciation for dueling is believable. The story starts frothily, with characters new and old whipping about, all having a grand old time double-crossing each other. But as it progresses, Privilege of the Sword becomes more about intimate power struggles and the right to personal freedom than just political infighting. Kate’s character also deepens, and while she retains a silly streak (she has a tendency to romanticize) she becomes a very likeable character. In the background of her story are Alec and Richard St. Vier, the main characters of Swordspoint; hearing hints of their story percolate up is both teasing and satisfying. The very end is a little too pat for my tastes, but overall I loved this book almost as much as its prequel....more
Ostensibly the first book in the Dark is Rising series, but I read it after I'd already been introduced to Will Stanton. It's my least favorite of theOstensibly the first book in the Dark is Rising series, but I read it after I'd already been introduced to Will Stanton. It's my least favorite of the series and I like the Drew siblings the least of all the characters in the series, but it's still far and away better than all other fantasy....more