"Does it lighten the burden of your Grace, to know you have beautiful eyes?"
The Graceling Realm, or The Seven Kingdoms Trilogy, is a Young Adult
fantasy trilogy by Kristin Cashore. It is set between the Seven Kingdoms, where people born with exceptional skills are known as "Gracelings"
and feared, and the Dells, a land filled with deadly and beautiful beings
referred to as "monsters".
The first book, Graceling
, focuses on Katsa
, who is Graced in killing
and is forced to utilize her gift
to do her uncle King Randa's dirty work. She long ago accepted she'd always be Randa's savage dog, hated and feared. But when she crosses paths with fellow Graceling Po she begins to reconsider that, and together they unravel a mystery that puts all seven kingdoms at risk.Fire
, the second book, a prequel set nearly forty years prior, is about the titular Fire, the last human monster in existence. With her monster status comes impossible beauty
and the ability to read and control minds, as well as the legacy of her father, a true monster who nearly tore the Dells apart. Aware of her power, and afraid of it
, Fire lives in a corner of the world away from people and temptation. Until the day comes when she is needed by her king, and Fire soon finds herself more entangled in the Dells political struggle than she could ever have imagined.
The last in the trilogy, Bitterblue
, returns to the Seven Kingdoms, this time following Bitterblue from the second half of Graceling
. Thirty-five years under the thumb of her cruel father and his terrifying Grace have left Monsea in shambles, and now Queen Bitterblue has to pick up the pieces. Her advisers believe they should pardon all of those who committed terrible acts during Leck's reign and forget every dark event that ever happened in that time. Monsea's past has become shrouded in mystery, and it's only when Bitterblue begins sneaking out of her castle to walk the streets of her own city at night, that she realizes the true state of her country. Her kingdom has been under the spell of a madman, and now their only chance to move forward is to revisit the past.
On April 25th, 2013, it was announced a film based on the first book is being developed.
The series provides examples of:
- 100% Adoration Rating: The Lienid practically worship their princes, and especially Po.
- Also Brigan. His soldiers would follow him through seven hells.
- Action Girl: Plenty. Most notably, Katsa, Bitterblue, and all the women in Brigan's army.
- Hanna grows up to be one. We never see it, but it's mentioned in Bitterblue that she's an army commander.
- Aerith and Bob: Most of the characters have short, simple medieval-sounding names: Katsa, Raffin, Faun, Leck, Oll, Skye, Helda, Randa, Ashen. But then there's Bitterblue and Greening Grandemalion (who goes by Po, but still).
- These last two are from the Kingdom of Lienid where most names are based on colours.
- It's more apparent in Fire, when we have a mix of names like Brigan and Nash mixed with names like Clara and Hanna.
- Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: Animal monsters.
- A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: No matter what form, mind reading always seems to have its downsides.
- Most notably, Po. He only knows thoughts that are related to him, which has numerous benefits, but he can't give someone the privacy of their thoughts even if he wants to.
- Arranged Marriage: Common, as you'd expect for a medieval fantasy setting.
- King Randa wants to enter Katsa into one in Graceling, but she does everything in her power to make sure the few suitors who want her for a bride will find her intolerable.
- Randa's son Raffin expects he'll be entered into one eventually. Falling in love with a lady or a princess on his own isn't really an option, as he's gay.
- Randa agrees to find a wife for a desperate borderlord from a neighbouring kingdom, provided he gets the dowry.
- Attempted Rape: Every book has at least one example.
- Fire is constantly at risk of this, due to her unnatural beauty.
- It's implied that Leck's interest in getting Bitterblue back isn't entirely fatherly.
- When Katsa and Po are staying at an inn in Graceling, Katsa notices a man leering at the inn-keeper's daughter. When they speak to him later that night, he mumbles a comment about locked doors.
- Badass: Too many to count.
- Bi the Way: Fire and Saf.
- Blessed with Suck: If you're lucky, your Grace will be useful and the king will keep you at court. If you're unlucky, then you get sent home, where you'll most likely be shunned for your useless Grace. If you're really lucky, you live in Lienid, where the Gracelings are free and treated with respect.
- Po's ability to read minds and sense people really does suck, since no one would trust him.
- Being a human monster. Especially if you're a woman. Everyone objectifies you for your beauty, and you constantly have to watch for people who want to (sexually) assault you. Oh, and monster animals hunger for your flesh.
- Compelling Voice: Leck's power.
- Crapsack World: Six of the seven kingdoms are run by a greedy, selfish king who don't give a crap about their people and are more interested in having spats with each other.
- Likewise, while the Dells is more advanced in terms of medicine, science, art, etc, it's been in a lawless, decaying state for the past thirty years and is in the middle of a civil war, thanks to Nax and Cansrel being more concerned with getting high than running the country. It's got better in Bitterblue though, from the sound of it.
- Cursed with Awesome: Katsa's real Grace: Survival. King Leck's Grace also qualifies, but he has no moral qualms about utilizing this.
- Differently Powered Individual: Gracelings.
- Fantasy Contraception: Both Katsa and Bitterblue use seabane, an herb that prevents pregnancy, and Fire eventually decides take a certain type of medicine that leaves her permanently unable to have children.
- Foreshadowing: Cashore is a master of it.
- Info Dump: Every book starts with one, but the degrees vary.
- La Résistance: The Council is a mild version of this. At first they're not interested in taking down any kings, merely just off-setting the damage they do, but by Bitterblue they're supporting one kingdom overthrowing their king and replacing him with a democracy.
- One Person, One Power: One Grace per Graceling, although how much they can do with it depends on how broadly it's defined.
- Shared Unusual Trait: The tell-tale sign of a Graceling is their different colored eyes.
- Stay in the Kitchen: As you'd expect from a medieval fantasy world, but for once it's actually addressed rather than just accepted. Katsa points how ridiculous it is that women are supposed to rely on men to protect them, when chances are it'll be men that want to harm them as well.
- The Dellians, being the more advanced and forward-thinking country, have allowed women to become full members of the army. Only recently, but still way better than the Seven Kingdoms.
- Superpower Lottery: Graces can be anything from being good at climbing trees to mind reading.
- You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Cansrel, Fire's father, had blue-silver hair.
- Raffin makes a medicine you rub into your scalp to cure a headache, which temporarily turns your hair blue.
Graceling provides examples of:
- Always Save the Girl: Katsa hates this trope up to a point where she's uncomfortable being saved by anyone.
- Anti-Climax: Katsa's final battle with King Leck involves her killing him with one dagger thrown through his mouth.
- Awesome Moment of Crowning: Bitterblue.
- Babies Make Everything Better: Averted. Katsa is so vehemently opposed to having babies (and marriage) that she refuses Po's affection for her at first.
- Battle Couple: Katsa and Po.
- Beautiful Dreamer: Katsa admires Po this way at least once. After making sure he's really asleep, of course.
- Berserk Button: Do NOT imply that Po is Katsa's "sensible keeper."
- Bestiality Is Depraved: Implied that King Leck does this to animals at his orphanage before brutally hacking them to bits.
- Brainwashed: Anyone who meets King Leck, thanks to his Grace.
- Breaking Speech: Randa to Katsa.
- Blind Seer: Po becomes this. Well, he already had the Seer part down (sensing everyone's presence, reading minds), but he does lose his eyesight later on.
- Bullet Time: Why Po is so good at fighting.
- Childhood Marriage Promise: Subverted. Katsa and Raffin were thinking of making one so Raffin could avoid an Arranged Marriage. They don't take it too seriously and laughed about it when they realized it would never work.
- Combat Clairvoyance: Prince Po's Grace equates to this in a fight.
- Deadpan Snarker: Katsa has traces of this.
- Decoy Protagonist: King Randa of the Decoy Villain variety.
- Determinator: Katsa really wants to be the best at everything, whether it's from archery to just racing up the stairs. There's also the bit where she crosses Grella's Pass with Bitterblue in the middle of a blizzard.
- Disability Superpower: What Po's Grace becomes.
- The Dog Bites Back: Katsa comments about how Randa knows how to make her feel like a brutal dog. She then tells him how she will kill all of the hundreds of guards he has with him, along with Randa himself.
- Dreamworks Face: Po at the end of Chapter Six.
- Embarrassing First Name: Po's real name is Greening Grandemalion.
- Everyone Can See It: Everyone, from Po to Randa, was aware of Giddon being in love with Katsa. Oh, and that Katsa and Po liked each other.
- Female Gaze: Katsa to Po a number of times.
- Fighting from the Inside: Po and Bitterblue are pretty good at this. Katsa, not so much.
- Freak Out!: Katsa has one when she realizes that she's in love with Po.
- Good People Have Good Sex: Katsa and Po.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Katsa, though she improves as the novel progresses.
- Heroic BSOD: Po after he goes blind.
- Important Hair Cut: Bitterblue's, which symbolizes she's no longer a pampered, sheltered princess. Averted with Katsa, who just didn't have the patience for keeping it tidy.
- Lampshaded Double Entendre: "The wild ones are most fun if you know how to control them."
- Let's Read: Here.
- Love at First Punch: For Po at least. Actually, a big part of Katsa's and Po's relationship is centered on trying to punch each others' guts out. Being that both of them are accomplished fighters who revel in sparring matches, this is much less dysfunctional than it sounds.
- Mass Hypnosis: Not only Leck's Kingdom, but everyone who personally meets King Leck. In fact, anyone who hears King Leck, and then talks to other people, who then talk to other people, taking this Serial Escalation.
- Oblivious to Love: Katsa, full stop. She didn't realize that Giddon was in love with her, she didn't realize Po was in love with her, she didn't realize realize she was in love with Po.
- One Person, One Power
- Running Gag: Katsa "abusing" her horses from overwork. Probably also qualifies as Somewhere an Equestrian is Crying. Seriously, she rides her horses full tilt at night for hours because it's "only" five or six more leagues until they get home and she's too impatient to wait for morning. One of the other characters asks if she is still ruining the horses.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Randa gives Katsa a Breaking Speech when she refuses to obey him. She responds by telling him exactly how she could kill every guard in the throne room and himself, before leaving.
- Telepathy: Po's real grace. Note that it works only when people's thoughts are specifically focused on him.
- The Smart Guy: Raffin.
- Their First Time: Katsa and Po.
- Unstoppable Rage: Katsa is afraid of hers. Po has traces of this, too.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Katsa and Po, to some extent.
- Walking the Earth: Katsa and Po end up doing this from Part II on.
- Wise Beyond Their Years: Bitterblue. She even realizes that "Po was in a position to see Katsa naked" at ten years old.
- The Wise Prince: Raffin.
- With My Hands Tied: When normal fighting gets boring, Katsa begins training to fight up to eight men all at once, with her arms behind her back.
- "World of Cardboard" Speech: Katsa gives one to Randa during her Shut Up, Hannibal! moment by detailing exactly how she could slaughter him and every one of the two hundred guards he has surrounding her. Internally, she acknowledges that she'd be lucky to survive the bloodbath herself, but Randa would certainly die and the death toll would be tremendous regardless.
- Writer on Board: Katsa's beliefs on marriage and having children. Word of God even admits that some of her beliefs got transferred into the novel.
- You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Raffin dyes his hair blue by accident.
Fire provides examples of:
- Absurdly Youthful Father: Brigan.
- All of the Other Reindeer: Fire.
- Body Horror: Brocker's legs were shattered. Not broken, shattered. By eight men taking turns with mallets.
- The Casanova: Archer.
- Closed Door Rapport: Fire insists on this with Nash at first, since seeing her face reduces him to a babbling idiot. Eventually he gets better.
- Cool Horse: Subverted when Fire chooses a plain, but sweet-tempered gelding instead of the showy mare Cansrel picked for her. Played straight with the river horse that "adopts" her after her escape from Leck's hideout.
- Creepy Child: Leck.
- Death by Childbirth: Hanna's mother.
- Dirty Mind-Reading: Mind reading + So Beautiful, It's a Curse = ...remember when we said Fire's life was built around Blessed with Suck?
- A Father to His Men: Brigan, very much so.
- Enfant Terrible: Leck. Isn't it nice to know that he's been torturing animals and killing people since he was a child?
- Friend to All Living Things: Fire loves animals and they love her. It does help that she has mind reading/control powers, so she can sense how they react to her and directly reassure them when needed to.
- Friend to All Children: Fire, which is why her resolution to remain the last of her kind is so difficult to keep. She compensates by taking care of her friends' children.
- Friends with Benefits: Fire and Archer. He wants to marry her, but the more he asks, the more it irritates her.
- Genius Ditz: Clara may seem silly at first meeting, but she's actually one of the Dells' highest-ranking spymasters.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Ironically, Archer.
- Heroic Bastard: Clara, Garan, Archer, and Brigan.
- Heroic BSOD: Fire had one after she killed her father. And another when she finds Archer's body.
- Heroes Want Redheads: Fire.
- Humans Are Bastards: Fire's monster beauty tends to bring out the worst in people.
- I Did What I Had to Do: Fire killed Cansrel, her father, because he was an evil man intent on keeping the Dells in chaos.
- I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Brigan's mind is so disciplined that he can block Fire's powers, which unsettles her, but is also a part of what makes her fall for him.
- If You Die, I Call Your Stuff: Just before a dangerous mission, Fire jokingly does this in order to get a sleepy Brigan to pay attention.
- Ill Girl: Garan is the rare male version of this trope.
- Inverse Law of Fertility: A variation. Fire, as mentioned, wants children, and she's physically capable of having them at least until she utilizes a permanent form of birth control but she doesn't dare, because monster humans should not exist.
- Meanwhile, Mila and Clara become pregnant purely by accident.
- Lamarck Was Right: A large theme of the story is defying this. "If we are all to be judged by our parents and grandparents, we all may as well impale ourselves on pointy bits of rock."
- Last of Her Kind: Fire, and she is damn well going to keep it that way.
- Like Parent, Like Spouse: No wonder Fire falls in love with gray-eyed, stoic, military genius Brigan. He's Brocker's son.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: For three separate characters.
- Morality Pet: Fire was this to Cansrel. Hanna to Brigan, too, although he's not mean, just cold.
- Morality Chain: Subverted. Fire wanted to become this, but she couldn't.
- No Periods, Period: Averted. It's brought up how inconvenient it is for Fire, as monsters are drawn to the smell of her blood and she can't go anywhere without a guard.
- Not So Different: The core message of Leck's Breaking Speech to Fire.
- Offing the Offspring: Archer is shot by his biological father (see Rape as Backstory), though it's not known if either one knew about it.
- One Steve Limit: Followed technically, but Nash and Nax are close enough together to be annoying.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Archer's real name is Arklin (which is mentioned exactly once), but no one calls him that, not even the other Lords and Princes.
- Parental Substitute: Brocker to Fire, even while Cansrel was still alive.
- Pet the Dog: In Brigan's case, be nice to the monster's horse and replace her broken violin.
- Posthumous Character: Cansrel and King Nax. Cansrel is quite well developed like this, too.
- Rape as Backstory: Archer was conceived this way when mad King Nax sent a man to rape Brocker's wife as revenge against Brocker for sleeping with, and impregnating, Queen Roen.
- Retired Badass: Brocker was the king's best war leader.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: The entire royal family.
- Second Love: For both protagonists.
- Sexy Shirt Switch: Archer finds this "impossibly sweet", oblivious to the fact that Fire's doing it to cover up some bruises.
- Skunk Stripe: Queen Roan.
- So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Heavily deconstructed with Fire. Her beauty makes her a predator magnet of both the animal and human variety, to the point that she is assigned a permanent twenty-person guard and isn't even allowed to sleep alone - two of her female guards must always be with her - once she's at the palace, as there are too many people who might want to hurt her, or even just barge into her rooms for the sole purpose of staring at her or touching her hair.
- The book is very good at taking the idea of someone being "impossibly beautiful" to the point of being nearly irresistible and showing just how awful that would be. Even leaving aside all of the obvious drawbacks mentioned above, there are smaller, more emotion-based ones that would be just as psychologically hard to deal with. Much of human empathy comes from how people look; the crappier someone looks, the more likely a person is to feel sympathy/empathy for them and reach out with comfort and understanding. Even when beaten, bruised, sickly, and crying, Fire is still the most gorgeous creature in the Dells. How she looks will almost never reflect how she truly feels. Fire herself puts it best:
"I'm not how I look," [Fire] said suddenly, bursting into tears. "I look beautiful and placid and delightful, but that's not how I feel. I will be sad. I will be sad, and confused, and irritable, very often."
- Self-Made Orphan: Leck in the prologue, and a heroic version with Fire.
- Tall, Dark and Handsome: Subverted with Brigan. He's got the tall and dark part down, but he is explicitly described as being quite plain in appearance, and certainly not handsome.
- They Call Him Sword: Archer.
- We Can Rule Together: Leck wants Fire as his "partner". Her answer is to send him falling into some sharp rocks, explaining why he has an eyepatch in the later book.
- We Have Ways of Making You Talk: Fire herself, albeit very reluctantly and after much persuasion, uses her monster powers to interrogate prisoners. Justified as she's working to prevent a three-way war.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Garan gives Fire an epic one due to her spending so much time wallowing in her grief rather than doing anything useful.
- The Wise Prince: Brigan.
- Woman Scorned: Nax is the Spear Counterpart.
- Worthy Opponent: Fire has a certain respect for Murgda, one of the rebel leaders.
- Wrong Context Magic: Leck is a Graceling in a country that's never heard of them.
- This benefits him though, as nobody realizes the significance and danger of his mismatched eyes. And there are no laws saying he's property of the king, which is what he was trying to escape when he left the Seven Kingdoms in the first place.
- Unlucky Childhood Friend: Archer was lucky for a while, but Fire eventually dumps him.
- Yamato Nadeshiko: Fire fits pretty well if you place the Dells in the position of family: A sweet girl with inner iron that tries to be a Morality Chain and lives east of the first book's setting
- You Did the Right Thing: Pretty much everyone tells Fire this in regard to her deliberately causing the death of her father and making it look like a suicide. Considering what would have happened had he lived, they're not wrong.
- Your Cheating Heart: Brocker and Roan. Averted with Fire and Archer, as Fire knows that Archer sleeps around and doesn't think much of it, beyond frustration for the broken hearts he leaves in his wake.
Bitterblue provides examples of:
Some entries are at the moment grievously incomplete, pending the final, official reports. The annalists cannot be held accountable for errors or omissions caused or required by others, of which there are doubtless many.
- Ascended Extra: Giddon and Bann. The former only appeared in the first third of Graceling, and the latter had almost no lines whatsoever.
- Cats Are Mean: Death's cat, Lovejoy.
- Child by Rape: Hava is the daughter of Leck and his sculptor Bellamew. Her mother kept her safe from Leck by pretending she had died.
- Brainwashed and Crazy: Everyone Leck affected with his voice, forcing several to do horrible things to other human beings.
- Dramatis Personae: There's one at the back, written by Bitterblue's librarian, Death.
- Government Conspiracy: Bitterblue suspects there is one, her new friends are sure there is one.
- Hallucinations: Po talks about "the dead in the river" after Bitterblue sends him after Saf into the rain and he gets a fever. Turns out the fever was warping and distorting his Grace, and there actually are bones in the Dell.
- Hero of Another Story: Everyone who also appeared in Graceling and Fire.
- Heroic Bastard: Bitterblue's half sister Hava saves her life a few times but is the only person to know they are related
- It Is Pronounced Tro PAY: Although this information is of questionable relevance to this record; Death, the Royal Librarian of Monsea , would merely like to note that his name is pronounced to rhyme with "teeth." (Though he suspects that some get it wrong merely to annoy him at times.)
- Medical Horror / Medical Rape and Impregnate: One of Leck's great passions was his "hospital" where he would perform surgical experiments. He even raped women for the purpose of having pregnant subjects. His impulse control problems often caused his subjects to die too quickly as he would perform multiple simultaneous experiments on a single person.
- Queen Incognito: The plot is mostly kicked off by Bitterblue doing this.
- Rape by Proxy: Leck. Just to make it worse, he used other men as the proxy.