It's been a while! I hope everyone is doing well, that you are healthy and safe, and that you have found wonderful new stories to indulge in!
I have recently binge-read the Graceling Realm series for the release of Winterkeep, book 4 of the series, that came out in January, 9 years after Bitterblue! I have a lot of thoughts and feels about this series. It's been a favorite for a while, and I really wanted to dive back into this story before starting Winterkeep.
For those of you who are curious, Graceling is a series of 4 books that give stories in different settings. The first three center around the same villain, Leck, at three different points of his involvement in the Realms. Each book can be read as a standalone and have different focuses.
Graceling focuses on people with special abilities called Graces, who have two different eye colors. It occurs during Leck's Downfall.
Fire focuses on a different country where colorful animals are known as monsters. This occurs during Leck's childhood.
Bitterblue is very close to Graceling, but focuses on the politics of the country, and the consequences of Leck's past tyranny.
Winterkeep looks at international relations and the healing of some of those affected by Leck.
In this ramble I will be talking about SPOILERS . I'm writing this as a space to organize my thoughts about this series because oh goodness there are quite a few.
1. WHY IS THIS SO UNDERRATED?
Graceling came out in that golden era of YA where books like The Hunger Games, Divergent, Percy Jackson and City of Bones were quickly gaining popularity. And while Graceling has many of the same qualities - amazing leads, a rather political background, a solid magic system, wonderful characters and probably one of the best villains I have had the pleasure to read about - this book never gained the hype all of these other well-known series did. I guess in a way it does feel a tad more mature than some of the other titles.
2. INTERESTING ROMANCE USE
Romance is always on the sidelines, yet is used in a really smart way. For instance in Graceling, the way Kasta is basically against love, but absolutely crashes into her feelings for Po, is quite different than the usual insa-love, slow-burn romance we find in many contemporary YA books. And even through her cascade of feelings, she keeps true to herself and her wish to never marry or bear children. Each of the 4 books handles romance in a different way, and I enjoyed seeing Cashore experiment with this. I loved reading a demisexual Kasta, a hopelessly in love Giddon, a fluffy relationship with Bitterblue and a more grown-up (likely bisexual) Fire. On the sides there were all kinds of pairings that I realize... people are upset at.
3. RANDOM RAMBLE ABOUT READING ETHICS: A HOT TAKE
People have told me I shouldn't read this because only the side couples aren't in a heteronormative relationship. I feel like that's such a sad comment to get. What I don't understand is that some people currently get mad on 2 accounts: if an author tries to write about something that they are not (POC, lgbt+ etc), but also if there is a lack of diversity within a book. I'm unsure where to draw a middle line between these opinions. I mean sure someone of color will be better suited to write characters of color, for instance, I get that. But then why be upset at (stereotypically) white, heteronormative authors for not including such aspects to their characters, all while saying they shouldn't? I feel like these arguments go full circle, and, in that sense, no book will ever be 'acceptable' to people who use these arguments.
4. BACK TO THE SERIES: THE WORLDBUILDING
Another thing I really like about the Graceling realm series is that it reads like a puzzle. Every book shows a new country, with new traditions and cultures and languages. The first 3 books fill up a gruesome yet spectacular villain, one of the type I wish I could read more often. Every book has a mystery to unfold, and this is done in an impressingly smooth way.
I've said this on instagram, and to my friends and family, I think I have a new favorite villain in Leck. And it's not in that suggestive way, for instance the way people love Sebastian from The Mortal Instruments, or the Darkling from the Grishaverse. Leck is despicable. With the Grace to alter people's mindset, he is able to convince people he is actively experimenting on and vivesecting that everything is alright. He does this both on animals and people, stemming from a macabre curiosity about how things work. He also uses this power to make people across the world believe that he is a kind, benevolent king, to keep up a facade behind which he hides his experiments. He's so twisted and dark, and his motive is his own curiosity. He's the main villain in Bitterblue despite having been dead for years. It's such an interesting character arc. I just wish he was more present in Winterkeep
6. CHARACTER GROWTH
I cannot get over character growth in this series. Kasta and Po are just my favorites because of how brave they are. Fire becomes Leck's obsession for years. Bitterblue's arc, however, is my favorite. She goes from a 10 year old child who is terrified to open her mind, as the daughter of Leck, to a young queen trying to undo her father's terrors, only seldomly opening her mind to those she trusts the most, to a strong queen, mind-linked to a fox, confident and positive. I love how side characters each get their happy endings, one by one. All I hoped for was for Giddon to have a happy ending, so by the end of Winterkeep when he found Bitterblue, the one he loves, after weeks of thinking she was dead, you can bet I was also crying.
7. BOOK ORDER
Graceling and Bitterblue stand out much more than Fire and Winterkeep for me. I am not sure exactly what it is, but something about books 1 and 3 have a sense of grandeure and familitarity all at once. Those two books are practically perfect in my eyes, books I'd save from a fire if I had to.
That's it for my rambling! I hope it's not too nonsensical, but, to be fair, I am writing this for myself. I have many thoughts on this series and having them all in one place can only be a good thing for me to come back to.