For the hoards of us still coming to grips with the fact that there is no Book Four in the Hunger Games trilogy, here’s Part Two of my top recommended reads to soothe post-Katniss cravings. (Click Here if you missed Part One)
Katsa is a Graceling, her different coloured eyes denoting that she has a ‘Grace,’ an almost super-human talent for one particular skill. In Katsa’s case, that skill is killing. Katsa’s Uncle, the king, forces her to use her Grace to punish those who oppose him. Unable to bear being his pawn, Katsa goes on her own missions, trying to bring a balance of justice back to the land. On one such excursion she meets another Graceling, a Fighter nearly as talented as she is. When he later reveals his identity to her, they develop a friendship that helps Katsa begin to question whether she must really submit to her Uncle’s wishes, or if her Grace might be the key to her freedom.
Graceling is one of my favourite types of books; a novel with a Fantasy setting where a strong heroine must battle both outside forces of evil and her own creeping self-doubt. There is a component of romance to the novel but, as with the Hunger Games trilogy, finding and keeping love is not the main aim of the heroine. Instead Katsa is focused on goals greater than herself, elevating her from a character that is merely relatable to one that is both heroic and a role-model. Kristin Cashore uses an established Fantasy/Sci-Fi archetype (the existence of a sub-set of humans with special powers; e.g. Jedi, the X-men, etc.) to explore morality and consequence. Katsa could choose to use her Grace to continue supporting her reprehensible Uncle, or even to elevate her own status. But, choosing to use her skill to further any goal would mean placing that goal above the value of human life, something her self-worth might never recover from. When we have talents for harming others, how do we acknowledge that part of ourselves without risking our Goodness. Does the very presence of the talent make us Evil?
The companion novel, Fire, is set in a world indirectly connected to that of Graceling. It’s good reading but the narrative is only tangentially linked to Cashore’s other novels.
The recently released Bitterblue is the direct sequel to Graceling, returning to the land of Monsea eight years later.
The Change made all the adults disappear. Gold Eye grew up in the dorms with the other children, waiting for his fourteenth birthday, when his body would be harvested for its organs to make the bio-mechanical creatures that the Overlords use to control their territories. But Gold Eye has a Change Talent, a skill that is a side-effect of the Change. He manages to escape and survive outside the dorm, at least, for a little while. Just as he is facing capture, he is saved by a group of teens who also have Change Talents; a group that call themselves Shade’s Children and who fight together to subvert the Overlords. The group is strong and clever, but their leader Shade is merely the uploaded consciousness of a former scientist and while the Overlords’ power constantly threatens, Shade’s lack of humanity may be the real thing to fear.
Garth Nix is one of my all-time favourite authors and growing up Shade’s Children was the first Sci-Fi novel to truly capture me. Like Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, Nix’s book utilises the archetype of humans with special powers. However, while Cashore’s novel focuses more on exploring morality and Evil, Shade’s Children examines how we define humanity and the influence technology has on our retention of that humanity. Issues of trust and loyalty also dominate. Gold Eye and his compatriots trust each other, and trust Shade, out of necessity. Like the rest of us, they want to believe that what they are doing can improve their lives, that their sacrifices might make a difference, if not to their own well being, at least to the rest of their world. Despite the overall darkness of the novel, Nix conveys one of the dominant aspects of human nature; our inherent belief that even in the bleakest circumstances, hope is not misplaced.
If you like Shade’s Children, try Garth Nix’s latest Sci-Fi novel, the newly released A Confusion of Princes.
Juno lives in the small isolated community of Taris; a community created as a haven from the decline of humankind in the world Outside. Beneath its protective dome, the people of Taris provide for all of their own needs; food, clothing and, when permitted, offspring to maintain the community’s population at 500. In order for the people of Taris to survive with so little, they must work together, placing the good of the community above the desires of the individual. But all Juno wants is to be allowed to grow her hair long, instead of having it shaved every week like everyone else. Surely having long hair can’t hurt the survival of Taris? But when Juno disobeys her elders, openly questioning this single detail of her structured and rule-bound life, she begins to uncover the bigger, more frightening questions about her society, and the people who lead it.
New Zealand author Fleur Beale has created a fantastic main character and setting in Juno of Taris. Reminiscent of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, the story makes the reader chafe at all the little injustices of Taris society along with Juno. The novel continually evaluates the trade-off between accepting harsh societal demands in order to ensure survival of a community, and rejecting these demands in order to procure the freedoms which make surviving worthwhile. The reader is also forced to confront the reality of what governmental leaders may be willing to hide in order to maintain the status quo. Well-written, gripping and thought-provoking, Juno is full of characters you both love to love and love to hate.
The story continues with Fierce September and Heart of Danger.