Streeeeaaam of consciousness…. and…. go:
There are a number of benefits that go along with the fact that Emily and I hope to live in the literary world for the rest of our lives. The benefit I am most excited about, behind getting paid to do something I love (if that ever actually comes to pass), is getting advanced copies of books. This is especially true when a book is the newest installment in a series I’ve loved, as was the case when Emily got her hands on an advanced copy of Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore. The newest book in the Seven Kingdoms series, it is a direct sequel to Graceling, and a companion to Fire.
If you haven’t read either of those books, I highly recommend them. They’re certainly not for everyone, but Emily and I really enjoy them. I find them to be immensely readable, with engaging characters who are never overly simple emotionally. All three books are centered on unique heroines who Cashore allows to be a complex mix of traits that never fall into easy masculine and feminine categories.
Cashore’s characters are engaging to me because they get at something of what it means to be struggling to understand who we are, and where we fit into the world. Her characters are always wrestling with their own light and darkness. Each story is driven by the journeys of young women attempting to take control of their lives, of their sexuality, of their power, and of their agency in a broken world.
I won’t go into much detail about Bitterblue, because it isn’t out yet and I don’t want to get into trouble. I only really sat down with it 3 or 4 times to read the entire 550 page book, so clearly I enjoyed my reading experience. As is the case with the first two novels in the series, Cashore’s villains are capable of remarkably evil things, much like we see in the real world. Cashore doesn’t pull punches, which is one of the reasons these books probably aren’t for everyone. When imagining what a psychopath might do with absolute power over the will of another person, her psychopaths go as far as a psychopath would go. Yet, it is the darkness that Cashore doesn’t hide from that makes the light in her novels believable and meaningful to me. When someone writes of hope by pretending everything usually works out okay for everyone, then it’s too false to be worth my time. There has never been a world where things work out okay for everyone, quite the opposite. In the end, everyone dies, we just need to live in a way that squeezes as much joy and beauty and love out of our experiences as we can get. As Tolkien and Lewis have taught in the past, fantasy is at its best when it doesn’t function as an escape from the world, but instead functions as metaphor that helps us see the world more deeply. I think Cashore’s strong metaphors of story, violence, sexuality, and power make her work an example of exactly that. Her work can help us look at our own stories more carefully and graciously, so we can offer something to those around us that makes our painful lives a bit more beautiful, while also facing the pain of our lives with our eyes wide open.
All three books are worth your time.