Brought to you courtesy of Book Project 2015.
I cannot even with how good this is. I mean you'd have to have you head under a rock to fail to notice that these books--while being perfectly decent fantasy yarns--are about ... well ... women.
Which makes me feel kind of awkward writing about them.
Not because I believe books written primarily for/about women don't have anything to say to me (because of course they do) but because I'm very aware that I'm reading from the outside. And the things I recognise in these books are things other people to live with.
Both Graceling and Fire deal with power and powerlessness - specifically the ways these intersect with and are influenced by gender. In Graceling, we have the kick-arse heroine who has always had her strength defined and used by the men around her. And in Fire we have the "deadly beauty" - a woman whose loveliness can literally control minds. Essentially both novels take for their protagonists very traditional female-character stereotypes and not only deconstruct them but re-forms them. In Graceling, Katsa learns about her own strength and how being strong does not necessarily mean being without compassion, warmth and companions you can rely on. And Fire, let's face is, is basically about rape culture.
Fire is what's known as a monster - a person (although animals can be monsters too) so astonishingly beautiful that it directly influences the people around her, causing them to lose their senses and become enamored with her. And/or want to hurt her:
She had a dagger scar on one forearm, another on her belly. An arrow gouge from years ago on her back. It was a thing that happened now and then. For every peaceful man, there was a man who wanted to hurt her, even kill her, because she was a gorgeous thing he could not have, or because he'd despised her father. And for every attack that had left a scar there were five or six other attacks she'd managed to stop.
Yes, it's not exactly subtle, but God it's effective. I was moved and also kind of ... illuminated, I suppose. It's one thing to rationally understand the world other people live in but quite another to have it make an emotional impact.
I should also say there's a damn good story here as well -- Cashore's writing seems more polished and her ideas more ambitious. And there's a genuinely lovely romance too.