This is a review of all three books, mainly because I feel that they’re all rather formulaic at their core. These are fantasy novels written by the ostensibly left-wing feminist Kristin Cashore, and they take place in a mystical realm with two major landmasses separated by a mountain range: The Seven Kingdoms and The Dells. Graceling and Bitterblue both take place in the Seven Kingdoms, while Fire, the middle book, takes place in the Dells.
In the Seven Kingdoms, there are people with special abilities called Gracelings – each of these people are gifted in one area. Someone might be a phenomenal cook, someone else might be able to read minds, etc. They are distinguished by their odd eyes – one eye might be green, the other blue.
In the Dells, there are brightly colored animals called monsters. There appears to be no other major difference to these animals other than their outlandish coloring. There were human “monsters” with brightly colored hair and special abilities, like mind control, but they died out, and the book Fire starts out with the last human monster in the Dells – a dark-skinned, red haired girl named Fire.
Fire is a prequel to the story, although it was written and released after Graceling. Bitter blue is more of a direct sequel to Graceling, taking place about a decade after Graceling.
Graceling is about Katsa, whose uncle is the king the Middluns ( one of the Seven Kingdoms), and she is a graceling with the “power” to be an undefeatable fighter. Or so you are led to believe. An old Lienid man is kidnapped, and she and her friends have to find out why.
Fire is about Fire, the last human Monster, who encounters the despotic King of Monsea back when he was just a youngster. Turns out he was evil even from a very young age. Her father used his mind control abilities to corrupt the previous king, plunging the land into chaos and anarchy.
Bitterblue, daughter of the evil King of Monsea, takes place when the titular character turns eighteen and formally takes the throne, and it’s basically about how she will run a kingdom scarred by the actions of her father.
So that’s the story. Of course, as I said earlier, they all follow the same formula:
Single, teenaged girl caught in a patriarchal society that doesn’t let them do what they want to do.
Teenage girl has some kind of ability to save the evil patriarchal world from itself.
Teenage girl hates marriage and refuses to get married
Teenage girl hates the idea of getting pregnant and giving birth to a child.
Teenage girl eventually has sex with someone
Teenage girl also takes some form of birth control
Teenage girl gets caught in love triangle
Here, let me plug in the variables for this formula:
Katsa, an unmarried teenage girl, is a graceling and is nothing more than her uncle King Randa’s hired thug, when she’s not forced to wear a dress and dance with random gentlemen.
As noted in the previous sentence, Katsa is graced with the ability to fight without being defeated (her grace is actually different, but I will not spoil it for you).
Katsa does not want to get married, as she considers marriage to be some form of prison or oppression.
Katsa also does not want children of her own, and is not fond of children in general.
Katsa ends up having sex with Prince Po.
Katsa takes some sort of herbal contraception to ensure that she does not get pregnant.
Katsa is caught in a love triangle between Prince Po and Giddon (chooses Po, obviously).
Fire, an unmarried teenage girl, is the last human monster. All the men in her life are either overprotective or are driven insane by her stunning beauty.
Fire, like all other human monsters, has a special ability to go with her brightly colored hair. She can read and control minds.
Fire does not want to get married. She’s perfectly fine with being Friends with Benefits with her family friend Archer. She too thinks that marriage means being controlled by a man.
Fire does not want children. She’s the last human monster and thinks that monsters, with their unique abilities, are too dangerous to live, so she decides to refrain from reproducing, so that the human monster race can die out (one of the more interesting reasons, in my opinion). She is the only deviation from the formula, as she likes children and would like to have some, but that another human monster would be too much for the Dells.
Fire has sex with Archer and Prince Brigan, brother of the newly crowned King Nash.
Fire takes an herbal concoction that renders her sterile.
Fire is initially caught in a love triangle between Archer and Brigan, but this does not last long, for reasons I won’t say because…spoilers.
Bitterblue is a young, teenage girl (well, she’s eighteen) who has just formally taken the throne of Monsea. Her advisers had been running the country as she was a youth, and now they’re helping her rule. They’re also keeping a lot of things from her.
Bitterblue doesn’t have a special ability, but she is in a special position, being the queen and all.
Bitterblue is just not interested in marriage, and is especially not interested in an arranged marriage, which is understandable. Her advisers gently pressure her to think about marriage and she balks every time.
Bitterblue is annoyed by the idea that she has to have an heir.
Bitterblue eventually has sex with the thief she met and fell in love with, Sapphire, or Saf for short.
Bitterblue takes the same sort of contraception Katsa did, and I think at some point in the story, Katsa advises her to take the contraception.
Bitterblue is never really caught in a love triangle, which is another exception. As mentioned earlier, she meets Saf and falls in love with him, but doesn’t seem to ever intend to marry him (or anyone).
All three books have token gay characters, too, and they’re all random and don’t really contribute to the plot much.
These books are all touted as “coming-of-age” stories, and I couldn’t help but think that liberals think that “coming-of-age” is about having sex and nothing else. Was it really necessary for all three characters to have sex? How did it help the plot any? The same could be said of each character’s stance on marriage and children, except for Fire, who at least had an interesting reason for not wanting biological children, and I am a little iffy about that too.
This whole trilogy was preachy; preachy about marriage, sex, women’s rights and equality, and none of it contributed to the plot at all. It was all shoehorned in because the author wanted to preach her politics to teenagers. If a conservative Christian author writes a novel about how awesome Jesus is and how we all should strive to live like Christ and follow the Ten Commandments, leftists would shriek and howl about how “preachy” that book was.
I don’t like books telling me what to think. I like books that inspire me to ask questions about myself and the world. This is just another series of moralizing books, but it doesn’t get any crap from leftist feminists because they agree with the message the author writes in her books.
Out of all the main characters, Bitterblue is my least favorite. Well, teenage Bitterblue. Ten-year-old Bitterblue is fine – a typical girl, but the teenaged Bitterblue is just annoying. She is petulant and has no control over her emotions. She is largely ignorant of her kingdom and the issues it faces (not entirely her fault, though, since her advisers are not being honest about how serious Monsea’s problems really are) and completely disregards the advice her advisers give her (which, after discovering their deception, is understandable). She has an opportunity to exercise her authority by insisting her advisers start being honest with her, and she does not use it. Instead, she sneaks out to experience the kingdom for herself, and ends up falling in love with a thief, who goes through most of the book not knowing she’s the queen. She’s dishonest to him from the beginning and they end up shagging each other anyway. She’s also really selfish and thinks of only herself, and not her job, which I kind of understand, but then again, tough. You’ve got to deal with the cards you get. The sneaking out thing is also astronomically stupid because she goes without guards and without telling anyone.
I cannot help but notice the striking similarities between Bitterblue and The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. Both books are about two young, naive, ignorant teenage girls ascending a throne and attempting to rule over countries that are facing serious issues. Both Kelsea and Bitterblue are humorless, angry, petulant people who do not listen to anyone around them. I guess this is a liberal’s idea of a strong woman – someone who does whatever the hell she wants without thinking about the consequences, or whether or not people with more experience then they might actually have a better solution. Nah, these college-age chicks with no life experience whatsoever clearly have all the answers.
A lot of people complain about the perverse nature of King Leck’s activities, of which is a major part of Bitterblue, but they didn’t bother me that much. It’s pretty graphic and dark, so if you have kids or are sensitive to that stuff, this book might not be for you. I’m sort of desensitized to this stuff because I frequent sites like Bare Naked Islam, of which show some truly horrifying, graphic stuff. Reading about jihad on a regular basis can really desensitize a person, and King Leck is kind of junior league compared to your average jihadist.
Pretty much all the villains are male. In Graceling, the villain is King Leck and perhaps Katsa’s uncle, King Randa. In Bitterblue, the villain is once again, pretty much King Leck, and the shady nobles who don’t like Bitterblue – all men, of course. Not all men are evil, but there are no female villains, and I find that boring. Women can be just as evil as men.