Backlist Bonus: Graceling

3236307by Kristin Cashore
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel – October 1, 2008

This has become a staple of my fantasy collection. Cashore’s style reminds me of Robin McKinley, it’s descriptive, almost lyrical, and the character development is subtle but intense. Katsa’s Grace (an enhanced ability, somewhat magical) is Killing, and she is forced to be the muscle behind her uncle’s throne. Secretly, she subverts his cruel and greedy orders, and tries to avoid killing at all costs. When a strange foreign prince encounters her on a mission, she becomes caught up in his quest to free his relatives from another king’s mysterious power – possibly a Grace that could doom them all.

Katsa ends up on a traditional quest in a world of strange powers, but Cashore makes this a fresh tale about a woman who fears her own power and refuses to settle for anything but finding her own place in the world. She doesn’t want marriage and children, she wants to be independent and choose her own destiny, away from her uncle and everyone else. It’s Po that makes her come to realize you can be independent and still care for someone else. Their slow-burn romance is beautifully told and only one arc in the web of adventure, politics, and saving a kingdom.

This is the first in a trilogy, with Fire being a prequel and Bitterblue a sequel to this one. Graceling is my favorite, but if you like this one check them all out.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Graceling is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman –  A richly detailed story about a half-dragon girl enlisted to help the prince solve a royal murder and keep the peace between dragons and humans as the anniversary of the treaty approaches. See my review here, and my review of the sequel, Shadow Scale, here.
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix – Sabriel must use the limited magic she knows to save her father from being trapped in Death. But a necromancer is working to raise the most powerful Dead spirit against the kingdom, and she must accept her destiny as her father’s successor, or doom the world to destruction. See my review here.
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley – A slower, lyrical story about a girl thrust into one of the most powerful magical roles in governing the land as upheaval grips her kingdom. She is the only one who believes the new master of the land can save them, but as a priest of Fire, his return to life among normal humans is unprecedented. This has touches of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale and is one of my favorites. See my review here.

Crown of Midnight

17167166by Sarah J. Maas
YA Fantasy
5 of 5 stars

When I read Throne of Glass, it was such a breath of fresh air that I devoured the rest of the series in a week! This is the second of what will be six books, and so far it is my favorite. Any flaws from the first book are cleaned up and swept aside here. The plot unfolds in a much more balanced way, with more twists and turns–the last 150 pages is a seamless collection of powerful scenes with cinematic scope. I loved it so much I immediately went back and read it a second time!

Everything you liked is back in this story: Celaena’s friendship with Nehemia, more of Chaol, more of Dorian, as well as an expanded view of the world and Celaena’s past. The web of politics expands, and Celaena has to come to terms with being too comfortable in her enemy’s glass castle. Her destiny is at a crossroads, and she has to choose a side.

If you enjoyed Throne of Glass, this one will only make you a bigger fan. If you thought the first book was “just okay,” this one might convert you.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Crown of Midnight is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo – This fantasy trilogy based on Russian mythology follows Alina as she struggles to discern her true destiny as the ruler or savior of Ravka. This is the second book and does an excellent job of expanding the story’s scope.
  • In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce – The second in a quartet about Alanna, a young woman trying to become the first lady knight in her country. Again, this sequel improves and expands on the first book and is my favorite in the quartet. See my review here.
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix – I recommend this book a lot because I love the heroine so much. Sabriel has to take up the mantle of Abhorsen (the person who protects the kingdom from Dead spirits and necromancers) before she is ready, when her father disappears. See my review here.
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore – Katsa’s magical ability (her Grace) is killing — until a prince from another country asks for help with a political/personal mystery and makes her question everything she believes about herself and her world. This is a bit slower than Maas’ work but the world and characters are rich and full of life. See my review here.
  • Old Magic by Marianne Curley – An Australian girl named Kate meets Jarrod, an attractive guy who just might have magic powers he doesn’t know about. Good thing Kate is a witch, because Jarrod’s family is cursed and she has to help him break that curse before it destroys them.

Throne of Glass

16034235by Sarah J. Maas
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel – August 2, 2012 – first in a series

I discovered this series last fall, and I just started re-reading it now. This was a complete breath of fresh air to me in the YA Fantasy genre–full disclosure, I haven’t enjoyed something this much since Harry Potter. A flawed heroine discovering her destiny as she fights for her freedom? Please, give me more!

When I read it a second time I did notice a couple of things that might be frustrating. First, no matter what the blurb on the front says, this is in no way similar to The Hunger Games except that it has a female lead–sadly, that seems to be the only criteria for a comparison to Katniss these days. This story doesn’t closely follow the assassin competition, and Celaena’s skills as an assassin come up in conversation more often than the actual plot. (This changes as the series progresses).

This is a royal court drama that gradually expands into a more traditional high fantasy structure. What really grabbed me here were the characters. Sure, the last half of the book picks up with intrigue and danger, but I would follow these characters to the ends of the earth! A real highlight for me was the friendship Celaena develops with the princess Nehemia. Finding strong friendships between women can be so hard, and these two are wonderful. Celaena is arrogant, too trusting, and perhaps more emotional and fond of candy than you’d expect an assassin to be–but her journey tears her apart and remakes her, and I can’t ask for more from an author.

Obviously, I’m sticking around for the rest of these (currently six books). Book 4, Queen of Shadows, comes out September 1st!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Throne of Glass is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Sabriel by Garth Nix – Another heroine learning her own strengths has to battle the Dead to save her father and the kingdom. A favorite of Maas and myself, and you’ll find nods to it in this series if you know what to look for. See my review here.
  • The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley – Young Aerin decides to prove herself useful to the kingdom by learning how to slay dragons, and discovers her destiny is to save the country that despises her. Also a favorite of Maas, and hints of it appear in her work. See my review here.
  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo – This is told in first person, which is unusual for the genre, but the world and characters here beg to be explored just as much as those found in Throne of Glass, and the pacing is a bit quicker. See my review here.
  • Truthwitch by Susan Dennard – Maas’ BFF spun a fast-paced tale of best friends with coveted abilities trying to outrun those who want to exploit their powers. See my review here.
  • Flight of the Dragon Kyn by Susan Fletcher – This is skewed a bit younger, though not quite middle grade. It’s part of a trilogy, and all three seem to float between the age brackets. A woman with the gift of communing with birds and dragons tries to keep them safe from hunters. It’s an easy, fun read.
  • The Secret Country by Pamela Dean – A trilogy about cousins that find themselves in their own made-up fantasy kingdom, reprising their roles. This is imaginative and fun, mostly revolving around royal court drama.
  • The Lost Years of Merlin by T.A. Barron – If you can get past the first book (skim, skip to the end, whichever) this is a fun series following King Arthur’s wizard as a teenager.

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