I finally finished the 3rd installment of the Graceling series and it got me thinking about the girls who are presented in each of the books and how they are a reflection of women.
Introduction: Katsa, who first appears in Graceling, is a Graced fighter who works for the king basically as his lackey. She has killed before, hurt before, but takes no pleasure in it. In fact, she kind of hates her job because it has made her a loner and friendless. Fire, who first appears in Fire, is a monster human. People, both men and women, are drawn to her, attracted to her, which makes her a danger to anyone she comes in contact with. Bitterblue, who first appears in Graceling and whose story is continued in Bitterblue, is the daughter of a tyrant king, rescued by Katsa and becomes queen after her father is killed. She’s a young queen who slowly discovers just how deep her father’s tyranny ran.
Just the facts, ma’am: Let’s start with Katsa – Katsa is a Graceling who is Graced with fighting skills, although it is later revealed that her true Grace is survival skills. She is the niece of a king and is used as his lackey, often killing his adversaries for him. Because of this, she is seen as a killer, evil and cruel like the king. Katsa is opposed to marriage and having children, much to the chagrin of most people around her, because she sees it as being controlled, something she loathes.
Fire is from a land called the Dells and is the daughter of a monster human, Cansrel, who was evil and tempted the king by controlling his mind and making him cruel. Fire has her father’s ability of getting into others’ heads, making them think certain ways, but she abhors this practice. She thinks it wrong to control the thoughts of others and does it sparingly, usually when she is attacked or has unwelcome advances. Fire does not want children because she does not want to create another monster human.
Bitterblue is the only child of Leck, King of Monsea, and is now queen. She is left with a country just coming out of the control Leck held over them, despite his death being years ago. Her people are still frightened and she is often kept in the dark on matters of state.
Digging Deeper: Katsa, Fire, and Bitterblue all represent what it is to be a woman, but in their own ways. On the surface, they appear to be one thing, which is sometimes typically negative, but below that there are many deeper, more complex levels. Katsa is hard, cold, calculating – she’s the type of woman you fear. Fire is a pretty face, revered for her beauty yet despised for what she is. Bitterblue is naive, overly-trusting and quick to act. But these traits aren’t who these women are.
Below the surface, Katsa isn’t hard. She understands how to take care of herself and knows she can rely on herself and her strength no matter what she’s face with. With this, however, comes loneliness, the need to connect with someone. But Katsa’s biggest fear is that by creating that connection she’ll give up herself, her independence, and be forced to submit to the world created by men. Therefore, she sees marriage and children as a burden, something that will destroy who she is.
Fire, on the other hand, wanted these things. She wanted to marry and to have children, but knew that because of what she was, she couldn’t have these things because of the dangers they would bring. She felt those dangers every day, felt how the lust and desire and want brought on by her very appearance caused so much chaos. Because of this, she understands the feelings others have for her aren’t always love – she understands the difference between love and sex and is able to not let it cloud her judgement when it comes to men.
Although Bitterblue is naive about a lot of things, she isn’t so naive when it comes to know who people can truly be. She’s seen her share of horrors in her life, thanks to her father, and understands that it’s up to her to rectify the damages her father caused. Bitterblue isn’t afraid to take a chance, to defy her advisors to pursue something she knows is right, even if it’s the wrong action.
Place in this world: While these three girls/women live in a fantasy world, their personalities, struggles, strengths, and triumphs easily transcend to ours. They defy typical female stereotypes, challenging readers to look at another side of feminism. Whether their roles in this world are as role models or they’re merely paving the way is left up to the reader. Others may argue that teens don’t need to read about characters who are cavalier with sex and men. However, what these characters show us is that there are more sides to being a woman and that in life, romantic notions of finding “the one” isn’t always the case, that there is more than living happily ever after.
I love you/I hate you: It’s no secret that I love these three characters. They are completely different from each other while retaining a common thread among them, something I love when comparing characters.
Among the three, Fire is hands down my favorite. I loved her hesitancy to accept who she was, her fear of it. There was something so completely raw and open about understanding that feeling.
Bitterblue was my least favorite, mostly because I wasn’t thrilled that she was kind of clueless most of the time. I understand that everyone kept her that way, but it still annoyed me. I also didn’t like that while Katsa and Fire were these developed women (despite being teens) Bitterblue was still fairly young acting. I didn’t understand why the other two were written older-acting and Bitterblue wasn’t. Maybe that was just me.
It’s been a little while since I read Graceling, so Katsa isn’t as fresh in my mind, but I loved seeing the warring emotions and feelings she had. Although she was hurting, she had to go on. I think this trait is something most women deal with on a daily basis – we’re so scared of letting our emotions show because it makes us look weak that when we do get emotional, we almost don’t know how to handle it. I loved that Katsa struggled with this and was able to show that although you feel these things, there can be a balance.
Mostly what I loved about these three women is that although they wanted certain things (love, men, children), they understood they could have happiness without these things. They were their own person first and foremost, and these things would only enhance their lives and not define them.