Fascinating Idea and Scenery, but Overtly Strong Feminist Ideals
3.5 Stars. When I started reading this book, I love it. It had action, fantasy and mystery. It’s set in a medieval like setting and had a fairly original concept dealing with its “graced” characters, or characters with special enhanced abilities. But, as it went on I felt like it was two stories that got mashed together, and by the end I had lost interest and stopped caring about the characters.
Part of this book is a love story between Kasta and Po, and the other part is a fantasy quest with Katsa and Bitterblue. I feel like I would have liked it better had it been one or the other, especially because the angst and sexual tension that were building between Kasta and Po at the beginning was entertaining. But, it wasn’t completely fleshed out and was resolved far too quickly. It left me wanting and feeling like the second half of the book was restarting with a new story that slowed things down because it was completely different from how it started. After the halfway point of this novel I felt like almost all of the questions I had, all of the mystery, had been resolved and then for the next 30% of the book things slowed down as you see some really awesome locations, but many of them we only get to see as Katsa is moving through them where there’s little action. It was nothing more that Cashore telling us about this awesome world she created- which it is, but I could have done without that. The second half of the book lost the story for me.
In the second half this book becomes more of a quest and the characters change, but not in a way I liked. The relationship between Katsa and Po that I felt was even matched turned into Katsa being stronger than Po. She also held all control in their relationship telling Po that she may just leave one day. I understood her need for freedom, but healthy relationships should involve compromise and commitment which this lacked. It felt just a little to radically feminist as if Cashore was trying to make the point that women are better than men.
I’m all for strong female characters and I understood why Katsa was how she was, but there were parts of her personality that I had trouble relating with. I hated that she cut her hair off. I understand that it was practical, but this just bothered me. Kasta may not be a girly girl, but her hatred of wearing dresses, cutting off her hair, dislike of marriage and really anything considered a traditional female role, made it hard to find softness in her. I can understand her not wanting to get married, but she often looked at marriage as extremely oppressive of women and in a very negative light. To her being married meant to be a possession, and it made me feel like her opinion was rather biased. I felt too much like Cashore was trying to make a point with Katsa and that her character lacked some development because of it. I will say, Katsa’s relationships with the men around her, particularly Po helped make her feel real, but I felt like they were somewhat glossed over and rushed through.
There is a definite theme of wanting to protect young girls from being forced to do something against their will. Cashore looks at power and control and how these things change who we are. This theme is repeated with the king’s daughters who Randa sends Katsa to force one of which to marry, with Katsa herself and dealing with Randa’s control, with the servant girl in the tavern, and then of course with Bitterblue and Katsa’s dealing with Leck in the end. I didn’t mind the theme, but I felt that it was a little strong.
In the end, I enjoyed Katsa and Po’s reunion but the few questions I had left such as, what did Leck want with Bitterblue, and why were there cut up animals and children dying, were still unanswered. I get that there’s another book and guess that this will be answered then, but all my other questions were answered before I was even halfway finished with this book. So, this was the only question that kept me reading, and then not having it answered left me feeling frustrated.
Overall, I think there is an audience for this book but I’m not it. If you like that stronger, feminist, ‘women are better than men’ kind of characters you will relate to Katsa, but I didn’t. Also, if you like books about quests and don’t need the suspense of romance to carry you through a novel, you might enjoy the second half of this book more than me. There is some good writing here, and a wonderful idea, but it wasn’t for me.