Thursday, May 31, 2012

Each night I ask the stars up above

Because a friend suggested Graceling, I read it. And gobbled it all up in one night. Set in a vaguely medieval world where seven kingdoms have uneasy truces with each other, the book managed to entrance me. Individuals with two differently-colored eyes are "Graced" with an innate gift: the heroine's is killing, which her uncle makes use of by dispatching her as his assassin. But, of course, the oppressed peasants and minor nobles form a secret intelligence network to try and right the wrongs done by the seven not-quite-warring kings.

The plot doesn't seem all that complicated, but it was written so well that it was incredibly spellbinding. Plus, the heroine is honestly a pretty strong-willed person who doesn't change her views for the whims of some romantic fantasy.

It's impossible not to compare it to The Hunger Games: Katsa/Katniss is the teenage heroine, Po/Peeta is the hero, the K girl is skilled at fighting, the P boy is all sensitive and understanding; together they are part of an underground rebellion which the K girl inadvertently leads. Who knows - the chicken or the egg? There are a lot of odd, rather suspicious coincidences.

Then I read the last two books in the Hunger Games trilogy. Like the first, they were captivating enough to keep me reading in one sitting. I loved the twists with a second Hunger Games, an increasingly obvious underground rebellion, and Peeta's capture.

Most of all, I liked how the idea of spectacle, war, and entertainment were intertwined - as Katniss becomes the unwilling symbol of rebellion, she is still "used" and filmed and made up just as she was by the Capitol oppressors who made her fight to the death in the Hunger Games arena.

But after Graceling, Katniss' personal drama was slightly irritating. There was a little too much "boy trouble", as Haymitch put it, and a lot of angry, angsty, reactionary moments. Am I that far removed from being a teenager that I can't relate to the mental confusion of a heartsick, headstrong adolescent?

In the end, I think the Peeta-or-Gale drama detracted from the better, larger story of people standing up for their rights, finding their way in the world, and learning to build community across differences. And I know that the two potential love interests represent different pasts and futures... but it got ridiculously, unnecessarily sappy a lot. Ultimately, the writing relied too much on dialogue and internal monologues rather than on creative and descriptive imagery. (Which is why, despite friends' opinions to the contrary, I still like the Harry Potter series better.)

Oh, and the other thing Graceling had in its favor that the Hunger Games series didn't: it's not written in the first person present tense*!

* one of my pet peeves 

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