Favorite Books of 2011, part 4: Feminist fantasy

Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore

These two books are part of a planned series of fantasy novels, but each could stand on its own. In this fantasy world of several kingdoms, the political alliances and dealings are a big plot-driver. The problems the characters face and the strategies they devise to solve them using their magical powers and their knowledge of the enemy are really interesting and cleverly devised. The main characters are strong young women with power of their own who fall in love with men who treat them really well and with whom they face dangers and enemies. What great models for positive relationships! And they kick serious ass as women warriors.

In Graceling, Katsa is born with a supernatural talent for fighting and killing. By law, her talent is subject to the king’s orders, and she spends the novel working to take control of her own power. She wrestles with the same self-loathing that some comic-book-type heroes face, because she has a conscience and hates the things that her uncle makes her do. With good reason not to want to reproduce, has sex and takes a herbal tea that’s supposed to keep her safe from pregnancy, so of course a lot of conservatives flipped out because of that. Whatever. Seemed pretty responsible to me. I liked that despite this determination never to have a child, Katsa actually acts pretty maternal when she has to save a little girl and keep her safe. The novel didn’t allow an easy dichotomy between “maternal” and “non-maternal” women, women who care and women who fight.

In Fire, the epynomous heroine is a “monster,” born with unnaturally brightly colored hair, able to control others’ minds, and hunted for this ability. She has some of the same inner conflicts that Katsa does, although her talent is less physical, and she also forms a solid relationship with a guy who respects her, after some initial love-triangle angst.  Fire, a prequel, shares a villain with Graceling, and he’s really a chilling, creepy and dangerous character. Both books are very imaginative, if you can’t tell by the little plot descriptions here, filled with great visual images and a large cast of well-developed characters, each with their own agendas, and the language is beautiful, appropriate for the fantastic setting.

Another two for my sixteen-year-old sister’s book list.

And yay! A third book coming out on May 1!

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6 thoughts on “Favorite Books of 2011, part 4: Feminist fantasy

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