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I like big books.


Graceling - Kristin Cashore Another decent YA find! These recommendations were very good. Though sometimes I wonder if it's the incredibly low expectations I have for this genre that make passable works feel like solid gold treasure.

The Good
Cashore creates a pretty imaginative world and synthesizes genres in pretty unexpected ways. There's a lot of potential here and the writing isn't half-bad. The idea of superpowers in a medieval setting is kind of exciting and unique and Cashore's imagination of what those potential powers could be is pretty intriguing. I liked the mystery and subtlety given to the explications of the nature of Katsa, Po's and Leck's graces. It's an ingenious idea that abilities often manifest themselves outside of specific and rigid categories (flying, or super-strength). In comicdom writers often start with explicit powers they intend to give their heroes, so there's never any question about what the extent and limitations of those powers are. In fact, it's almost standard-fare in building superheroes that you start with the powers in mind first and let that shape the story. Here, things seem reversed, in a very inventive way. Children are born, and some, occasionally, develop mismatched colored eyes - a sign of unique ability. What exactly that ability is, has to be determined, and sometimes the diagnosis is slightly off and the children themselves don't know what they're capable of as they manifest new powers or hit limitations that they assumed wouldn't exist given the manifestation of their powers to that point. Brilliant thinking! The story is also capably told. That aspect isn't exactly new territory, but it's not bungled either. The plot develops and there's enough mystery involved to keep the pages turning at a steady clip.

The Bad
Once again, I get the sense that this book suffers from identity crisis. Like The Maze-Runner, it's shelved as YA lit, and it definitely has that YA feel to it. There are, however, some not YA moments throughout, including a relationship that turns sexual that you wouldn't expect to find in a super-powered adventure tale aimed at fifteen year olds. I get the feeling that a lot of these newer YA authors are trying to pull off The Rowling Effect and trying to create stories that appeal to all age groups, but do so by including jarring and not-so-subtle elements that stick out like sore thumbs and distract from the narrative. I think this could have been better if Cashore defined her audience a little better. If you target the mature audience, drop the catchy names, crooked grins, and be more explicit with violence and adult stuff you spend half the book just hinting at. Develop the solid foundations of the sociopolitical nature of having super-powered individuals in a rival monarchical setting more and explore the issue of super-powers and responsibility more philosophically. If you want your target audience to be teens and tweens, drop the thinly veiled sexual references and focus more on the emotional bond between Katsa and Po and heighten the sense of adventure. Just. Make. A. Choice. Either way, the book comes out stronger than it is and it has tremendous potential along either of those lines.

The Ugly
For the love of god, stop with the stupid names! I can't take it anymore. Nine out of ten times I put these books down because I can't stand the hipster names these characters are given. Katsa. Bitterblue. Katniss Everdeen. I mentioned this in my Hunger Games review as well. It feels like these authors are compensating for a lack of character development by just making their characters sound cool. If they spent half as much time thinking about how their characters should be reacting and changing to the events they plan for them as they did imagining how they can make them sound "impressive," they'd be much, much better writers. Hipster names are a warning sign to me, but in this case I'm glad I ignored the danger sense. But honestly, how uninteresting are the names Harry or Ron? How much time do you think Rowling spent on picking those? Guess what? They're far more memorable than your Katniss's, Moonbeams and Dakotas. I feel like just saying those names requires you to whisper intensely and pause for dramatic effect. It reeks of poor melodrama and superficiality. STOP IT. The reading gods demand it or you will be cursed with short and insignificant careers.