Winterkeep (Graceling #4) by Kristin Cashore | Book Review

Genre: (adult) fantasy

Pages: 528

I would look up trigger warnings before reading it! While I loved the book, I nearly had to stop because I expected a lighter type of fantasy, but even if it’s always taken up serious subjects, it suddenly got a lot darker and more in-depth. Among other things very explicit child abuse and gaslighting, also against one of the protagonists. As well as suicidality, animal abuse, etc. LIke there’s been sadists since the first graceling book, but it feels much more explicit here, probably because it’s more applicable to real-life.

Synopsis

Four years after Bitterblue left off, a new land has been discovered to the east: Torla; and the closest nation to Monsea is Winterkeep. Winterkeep is a land of miracles, a democratic republic run by people who like each other, where people speak to telepathic sea creatures, adopt telepathic foxes as pets, and fly across the sky in ships attached to balloons.

But when Bitterblue’s envoys to Winterkeep drown under suspicious circumstances, she and Giddon and her half sister, Hava, set off to discover the truth–putting both Bitterblue’s life and Giddon’s heart to the test when Bitterbue is kidnapped. Giddon believes she has drowned, leaving him and Hava to solve the mystery of what’s wrong in Winterkeep.

Lovisa Cavenda is the teenage daughter of a powerful Scholar and Industrialist (the opposing governing parties) with a fire inside her that is always hungry, always just nearly about to make something happen. She is the key to everything, but only if she can figure out what’s going on before anyone else, and only if she’s willing to transcend the person she’s been all her life.

My thoughts

Ever wondered what happens after the good protagonist becomes king/queen of the kingdom and wants to turn it into a democracy? Here, a familiar history of corruption, burning of scientific knowledge and other countries’ secret exploitation of their resources creates difficulties.

You could absolutely read this book as a stand-alone, even though it’s a very late (like nine years late) fourth book in a series I loved as a kid. While the rest of the series is young adult, it seems to have grown with its audience very deliberately and the themes and actions of characters in this book is very much adult.

Some day I need to write a review of the original trilogy, but just know that I loved it with all my heart. The first book features a kick-ass character named Katsa that’s trying to get out a life being used as an assassin just because she’s skilled/graced with it. And this book is a continuation of that in two ways.

It’s the same kind of simple, yet well-done world as before. The parts of the world have expanded, and I love the intelligent foxes and telepathic sea creatures here. Mainly the fantasy aspect is certain characters being gifted with one skill (called grace), visible by different colours on each eye. The second thing that’s stayed the same is the fierceness in the protagnosists, even though Cashore has developed in what ways a character can be strong and weak. It’s no longer just survival; it’s politics, finding strength in overcoming trauma, being intelligent and compassionate. There’s power in continuing to care for people, even after other’s have failed you. This book’s plot reads very much like a mystery, with the different POVs helping to create puzzle pieces that fit so perfectly together, yet still surprises you.

I loved the kraken-like (The Keeper) creature’s POV so much and would’ve liked its part to be bigger, though I get how that would work against the essence of its character. I felt like this book had a lof of different elements to love and that’s stuck in my mind since I read it. For instance, Lovisa has to take cover far into the country-side, where she really comes to terms with what her goals are after being through so much crisis and trauma. Along with the usual action, which there is a lot of, the book highlights the more tedious, but real-life consequences of continuing living a life. Even reading Lovisa’s inner voice is painful as she’s constantly discrediting herself, but so very real.

My absolutely favourite character was the fox Adventure – I don’t get how people dislike him. I mean his constant thoughts alone brings great relatable humor;

The fox had never before experienced the level of anxiety he’d been experiencing lately. It was too much. He could not keep everyone safe all by himself! And his siblings, all of whom were present at this party, were as useless as ever.

Somehow I think this became the book where I realized there’s worth for me in following trigger warnings, because it has a very explicit scene of Lovisa as an older daughter being threatened with her younger brothers’ suffering by the hands of her parents. Somehow, that was what got me and I just sobbed the rest of the book to be honest. But I reread those parts the next day and it’s really well done, in many ways. It’s in accord with the abusive behaviour of her parents until that point, the illusion in Lovisa’s mind of them having been good to her at times is completely destroyed, making their downfall a lot more satisfying.

What I felt reading this book: Excited about the mystery-feeling of the plot, well-written characters and the added dimension of the politics. Sobbed a lot. Appreciated the relief the non-human characters brought.

They Never Learn by Layne Fargo | Book Review

Look up trigger warnings! There’s a lot around sexual assault and abuse of power.

Genre: thriller, serial killer, dark academia, lgbt; f/f relationships, queer women, two bisexual female protagonists

Pages: 378

Synopsis

Scarlett Clark is an exceptional English professor. But she’s even better at getting away with murder.

Every year, she searches for the worst man at Gorman University and plots his well-deserved demise. Thanks to her meticulous planning, she’s avoided drawing attention to herself—but as she’s preparing for her biggest kill yet, the school starts probing into the growing body count on campus. Determined to keep her enemies close, Scarlett insinuates herself into the investigation and charms the woman in charge, Dr. Mina Pierce. Everything’s going according to her master plan… until she loses control with her latest victim, putting her secret life at risk of exposure.

Meanwhile, Gorman student Carly Schiller is just trying to survive her freshman year. Finally free of her emotionally abusive father, all Carly wants is to focus on her studies and fade into the background. Her new roommate has other ideas. Allison Hadley is cool and confident—everything Carly wishes she could be—and the two girls quickly form an intense friendship. So when Allison is sexually assaulted at a party, Carly becomes obsessed with making the attacker pay… and turning her fantasies about revenge into a reality. 

My thoughts

Sometimes I feel the books with a really interesting plot/synopsis that feels targeted at me, is the ones that let me down the most. It’s got a very good goodreads rating too. I just couldn’t get over how much I didn’t like the writing, as in the language used being cringy and constantly taking me out of the story. There’s two f/f queer friendship (both POVs are bisexual women) that turn sexual at certain points, both ending up very different. It’s all very intense and dramatic, yet it fits into the story. And there’s enough twists to the characters and the plotlines that I did enjoy reading it, even if it was built on somewhat one-dimensional characters.

I first blamed it on the fact that writing a serial killer is difficult, and it still could be, but it’s the same problem with the student Carly. Because in many ways she’s supposed to showcase the start of a girl turning cold and ruthless by the experiences and total lack of support in the systems, like being ridiculed by school administration when trying to help her friend after a sexual assault. It was a nice comparison, even if it was laid on a bit thick with even the professor Scarlett pointing out how she saw a young version of herself.

I have to state that there’s nothing wrong with these “unlikable” female main characters that made me dislike the book, as I often prefer them. In general, the author seems to be known for writing those well. I also want to say I whole-heartedly disagree with some other bad reviews claim that all the rapists weren’t equally bad and so on, it’s showcased all the way why the serial killer chooses her victims and the actions they’ve committed. I had to stop reading those reviews quick to not get sick, as they excuse sexual abuse so blatantly. It’s not meant to be feministic in how you should cheer on a serial killer, that’s up to the reader, but in showing how a culture of abuse and sexual assaults can be protected against those who want to report it. And that’s not far-fetched at all in today’s society, even if it shouldn’t have to defend itself as fiction.

Is it dark academia? Absolutely, it’s a look into a professor/murderer’s mind set on an university campus, trying to avoid persecution. The student’s POV even shows how her experiences and obsessiveness with helping her friend and keeping up with writing leads her into a darker path than she could imagine. It definitely showcases the potentially worst sides of an (academic) institution with abuse of power from everyone in charge.