I started this book sometime before August (or maybe during August) and finally finished it on September sixteenth. It was very, very good, and I gave it five stars on Goodreads.
My favorite thing about this book was the characters. They were all well-written, well fleshed out, deep, enjoyable characters, with the possible exceptions of Giddon and the Leinid crew. Giddon seemed rather shallow to me, but even at that he was still well-written for who he is, I think. Po was certainly my favorite character; he’s fun to read because he’s clever and witty and flirtatious and he’s a good guy. That’s basically my checklist for if you want to write a character I’ll love reading. Jest from Heartless, Po from Graceling, Celaena from Throne of Glass, Cimorene from The Enchanted Forest Chronicles… Yeah, it’s a long list. So of course I like Po. Bitterblue was my second favorite character. I couldn’t tell you quite why. I think because she’s so intelligent and understands so much about the characters around her. Katsa, the main character, comes in third. Though she was deep and complex, her personality wasn’t a favorite of mine, personally. She’s rather distant under most circumstances and takes a while to open up to other characters, and I tend to prefer reading characters who connect easily with other people, for some reason. She did connect very well with some of the characters around her, but her general character is aloof and distant.
I judge the worldbuilding as about a four out of five. I could tell that the world was well thought-out and deep, but I thought in the book we really only get to see the tip of that iceberg and I really wanted to see more. Leinid was the most fleshed-out of the kingdoms, and also my favorite. I’m sure that the former contributed to the latter, but it doesn’t help any that the other two countries that were really mentioned weren’t really very likable for… reasons. The two of them fed into each other, I think. I tend to like reading a deep world, so maybe I’m just looking for more from the book than is normal because of that. I do see that it has a lot of depth, just not a lot that we get to see in this book. Maybe in the other books there’s more detail given.
The plot also gets a four out of five. I really love the idea of Graces. I found that fascinating. I love Po’s Grace in particular, but all of the three showcased were fascinating to read and fit their characters well and just blended to create a really interesting story. The main plot was really interesting, as well. I felt that the antagonist was well-developed, just like all of the others, and even though he isn’t really seen much, he was really interesting to read when he was “on screen,” and even when he wasn’t. I love villains who personally affect the good guys. The antagonist did that with Katsa and Bitterblue, and to some extent with Po as well, more through Katsa and Bitterblue than as directly. He played with Katsa’s mind, both intentionally and not so intentionally, and we get to see her confidence falter as she’s faced with something she’s never faced before.
Unfortunately I must include a warning that there are about two scenes and a sentence that are rather inappropriate. It really disappoints me that so many of the really good books I’ve read have scenes in them that have to be skimmed. Why can’t people write clean fantasy with the same depth of worldbuilding and characters?
Other than those couple of spots, though, this book was great. I don’t feel comfortable recommending it because of those few scenes, but I really enjoyed it.