4 stars out of 5
Kristin Cashore wrote three Graceling Realm books. The first is Graceling which follows Katsa. The second was Fire, which follows the “monster” Lady Fire. The third is Bitterblue which follows the young queen Bitterblue. Why do I start with the third book? Well, this series may contain repeating characters and exist within the same world, but the focus is different enough to be different series’.
But also, I read the third book first. This was a book given to me by my sister, and when she picked up the book from the store there was no indication on the cover pages implying it was the third in a series. I found that out later.
Cashore’s world does have people with interesting and diverse magic. As far as I understand it, graced skills are hereditary, yet still surprising. An individual who is graced is called a graceling and come with different colored eyes such as one green and the other blue. The graceling usually discovers their powers at a young age. Their powers can be a bit mundane or mystical. Each grace is an enhanced skill. Those graced with baking, smithing, or archery are just really good at that skill. And then there are others who are graced with something more unusual such as mindreading, giving people certain dreams, or camouflage.
The different kingdoms in the books treat their gracelings differently. Some fear and seek to enslave their gracelings while others honor them and place them in positions of authority. Whichever the case, a graceling’s eyes always make them stand out and their lives end up taking a different turn than they imagined.
Most of the world centers around this magic, even unintentionally as each society seems to put a great deal of emphasis on individual skills and colors. Politics need gracelings to function and maneuver. Graced fighters are necessary to win any fight. And yet, gracelings have little power themselves and end up being used as tools. Except for those who rebel.
Rebuilding a Kingdom
Bitterblue’s story consists of a young queen trying to rebuild her kingdom after the tyranny of her father who was more of a “monster” than a graceling. Bitterblue is quite ignorant and innocent of the ways of the world and I found it relatable to follow her story. Since I started reading the third book first, I had no idea what was even in this world. Thus I discovered things at the same rate as Bitterblue.
You can find out a bit more about Bitterblue’s late father, King Leck, from Fire. He was a graceling who could convince anyone of anything and misused his powers. It didn’t help that he seemed to be mentally insane. The kingdom of Lady Fire calls these people “monsters” for good reason.
I can’t say for sure why I don’t love these books instead of just liking them. Perhaps they are just missing something small. You don’t have to read the third book first like me if you want to know the backstories of certain characters. But it was kind of fun to be a first-timer reading from an unexperienced viewpoint. The choice is yours, but I do recommend reading all the books. I especially enjoyed reading Graceling after being introduced to Po and Katsa in Bitterblue. They were my favorite pair and I loved reading about how they first met in Graceling. You don’t want to miss out on them.
As always, you can find Bitterblue on Amazon.