Top Ten Tuesday: Ways to Motivate Yourself to Read When You Have Depression

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To learn more about Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly book meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, click here.


Reading is one of my favourite things in the world, and it almost always makes me feel better. However, depression can make it excruciatingly hard to motivate myself to pick up a book, if I’m even able to read at all, what with my other conditions like brain fog and fatigue. There are some things I’ve found over time that really help to motivate me to read and to stay reading in spite of depression. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday was a freebie, so I’ve collected some tips for you if you’re struggling in a similar way.

Asian woman with bright eye shadow reading a book with a light blue cover, overlaid with the words


#1 Don’t beat yourself up

This one might be obvious, but it’s also really important. I know it can be frustrating when you miss a day or two of reading, or even entire weeks, but it’s not a failure. Some days you’ll be too tired, stressed, or sad to read. That’s okay. The goal is to enjoy reading, not to read every day without fail. And just because you didn’t read yesterday, doesn’t mean you can’t pick up a book today.


#2 Recognise your avoidance behaviours and stop them

When I’m depressed, I tend to fall into patterns of not really doing anything for long stretches of time, like refreshing Twitter over and over, playing games on my phone, or watching YouTube video after YouTube video, but without really enjoying myself. When this happens, I have to make a conscious effort to stop drifting and to make myself read (or whatever else it is that needs doing). Observe yourself, figure out what your own avoidance behaviours are, and consciously try to influence them. This can be really hard at first, but it gets easier with practice. It’s worth putting in the effort in order to be able to surface from your aimless depressed haze to do something that actually makes you feel better.


#3 Avoid distractions, but remember to take breaks

If you know you get easily distracted, don’t read on your phone if you can avoid it. In fact, if you’re able to, turn it off or turn on airplane mode. Try to make your reading environment as free of distractions as you can so you can fully immerse yourself in your reading. However, remember that it’s hard for your depressed brain to focus for a long amount of time, so don’t be afraid to put your book down for a few minutes, do some stretches, go to the loo, and rehydrate. Ignoring your body’s needs for too long will only make you feel worse, so try to find a balance that works for you.


#4 Make reading part of your routine

black woman with glasses and natural hair reading at a cafe table

If you’re able to, replace another activity at a certain time with reading. If you watch YouTube videos in the morning while drinking your coffee or if you spend your commute on your phone, consider whipping out your book instead to get in a little bit of reading time. It doesn’t have to be long, but I find it helps me to get going when I have a specific time to get out my book and just settle down for a couple of chapters. A good time to do this is when you’re feeling relaxed, which for me personally is breakfast time. I drink my tea, snuggle my dog, and do a bit of reading. Knowing that I made progress on my book in the morning allows me more peace of mind during the day, but your mileage may vary with regards to what time works best for you.


#5 Be okay with only reading a little

Sometimes all the reading I do in a day is one short chapter before bed before my sleeping meds kick in. And that’s okay! Again, the goal is not to read as much as humanly possible, the goal is to be able to pick up your book and enjoy it for even a short while. So you “only” read for ten minutes? That’s ten more than zero minutes. You’re “only” reading comics or graphic novels? That’s still reading! You’re reading! Success!


#6 Do not read (too far) past your bedtime

Asian woman lying in the dark with a

I know it can be incredibly tempting to just stay up and finish your book when you’re really into it in the moment, but I personally recommend not doing it. It’ll cause your sleep schedule to get out of whack, which will probably make you more depressed and unlikely to read. Instead, save your momentum to keep going the next day! It’ll be easier to pick your book back up again if you’re dying to know what happens next.


#7 Have your next read lined up before finishing the last

This is in the same vein as the last tip. Whether I’m reading a series or a stand-alone, I always give some thought to what I’d like to read next before I finish, so I can have the sequel or a new book ready to go as soon as I’m done with my last read. Making sure you have your next read downloaded to your e-reader, or in your bag if you read on your commute, or next to your bed if that’s where you do your reading makes it so much easier to pick up the next thing. Personally I even like to go so far as to open the next book I’m reading as soon as I’m done with the last, and sometimes that means I immediately get sucked into my next read. No in-between-books slump for me! If you’re someone who reads multiple books at a time, this will obviously be less of an issue, but this could really help any of my fellow one-book-at-a-time readers out there.


#8 Give yourself permission to not finish a book

Have you ever found yourself pushing through a book you hated just because you feel the need to finish it, becoming more and more reluctant to pick it up as you go along? I’m definitely guilty of this. Here’s the truth: whether or not you finish a book doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make the time you’ve already spent reading it a waste of time. You know what would be a waste of time though? To keep reading a book you’re not enjoying just because you feel you have to. When you’re depressed and motivating yourself to read is a struggle in itself, don’t make it harder on yourself. Put that terrible book away and delve into something more enjoyable.


#9 Get an e-book library subscription

I know this is not possible for everyone, hence why I’m putting it at the bottom of my list. If you have free access to a library and/or can afford the subscription fee, get an e-book subscription. This will allow you access to a free or unexpensive never-ending supply to books that you do not even have to leave the house to schlepp to and from the library. And the best part is that if you’re struggling to finish a book in the allotted time, you can put your e-reader in airplane mode and keep it on there for a couple of extra days to take the pressure off. Don’t tell anyone I let you in on this top-secret trick.


#10 Don’t put too much pressure on yourself

Person with colourful bracelets holding an e-reader, legs stretched out in front of them

You’re not making progress with a book as fast as you’d like? You’re not on track to finish your Goodreads Challenge? You’re not reading as much as you’d like to? Stop, take a breath, and remember that this is not a competition. Like I said under #1, you’re reading to enjoy yourself. When you put too much pressure on yourself with arbitrary reading goals, it can suck all of the pleasure out of reading and make you feel like a failure, which in turn will make you want to read even less. Cut yourself some slack and get to reading when you can. And lower that Goodreads Challenge goal to a number that’s feasible at your own reading speed, instead of whatever number you think you should be able to read in a year.


I hope some of these tips were helpful for you. Let me know what you think in the comments, and please leave any further tips that you might have for reading while depressed or chronically ill down below as well! Happy reading!

WWW Wednesday: The Broken Earth, Rebel of the Sands, Brooklyn Brujas

WWW Wednesday is a weekly book meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words wherein posters answer the three Ws:

  1. What are you currently reading?
  2. What did you recently finish reading?
  3. What do you think you’ll read next?

The covers of the series The Broken Earth, The Rebel Sands, and Brooklyn Brujas

What I’m currently reading:

I’m currently in the middle of the Rebel of the Sands trilogy by Alwyn Hamilton. I tore through the first book because I loved it so much, and the series is definitely shaping up to be one of my favourites of this year.

What I recently finished:

I just finished The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin last week, wrapping up The Broken Earth trilogy. It was an epic series, but very complex and heavy on abuse, so while I thought it was amazing, I’m glad to be moving on to less heavy reads again!

What I think I’ll read next:

My library hold of Bruja Born, the second book in the Brooklyn Brujas series by Zoraida Córdova, is bound to come through soon, so I’ll likely be rereading Labyrinth Lost in preparation for that. And in general, I’d really like to delve back into reading more female-driven Urban Fantasy again, since it’s one of my favourite genres.

What are you currently reading or planning to read next? Have you read any of the books mentioned here? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Review: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Rating: one (1 out of 5)

My library hold of They Both Die at the End came through right after the author, Adam Silvera, had initiated a Twitter debate by scolding readers for pirating his book. I don’t condone piracy in general, but I disagree with the popular stance that books are luxury items, and I strongly believe that poor marginalised readers, especially kids and teens, should not be blamed for large-scale industry problems. (Some tweets about this issue.)

The solution to writers being systematically undervalued by the publishing industry is not to scold poor people, it’s to change the industry in a way that will allow authors to make a living wage even while broadening access to their works. Poor marginalised readers often have restricted or no access to books they can see themselves in, while at the same time having the greatest need for them, and I do not blame anyone in that situation for accessing these books the only way they can. But I digress.

What I’m getting at is that this situation caused me to pick up They Both Die at the End with some trepidation. I always like to give marginalised authors a fair chance though, so I tried to approach it with an open mind in spite of my reservations.

tbdateOn September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today.

Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.

For a book promising a “great adventure”, They Both Die at the End moves rather slowly. It’s a very short book, and much of it is wasted on boring exposition, but without ever delving into how our world evolved into what it is in the book. To me, that was relevant information, so the lack of explanation was grating.

The main characters are Mateo and Rufus, both queer Latinx boys. Unfortunately, I immediately developed an intense dislike for both of them because they’re insufferably melodramatic and self-important. Mateo, a boilerplate decent human, is repeatedly described as being oh so quirky for being kind. Rufus, on the other hand, is introduced while almost beating another boy to death out of jealousy over a girl. That’s pretty damning behaviour in my book, but the author is adamant about trying to convince the reader that the beating was an out of character transgression, and that Rufus is really a good person.

These characterisations really turned me off the main characters, and it was hard to connect with them or for the emotional stakes to ever get off the ground. I was ecstatic when I found myself rooting for them at one point in the last third of the book, but the emotional connection didn’t last.

The world-building and introduction of seemingly random but in fact interconnected characters kept hinting at a bigger overarching plot that the author never delivered on. The ending was very anticlimactic and the only emotions it left me with were confusion and dissatisfaction. The story consisted entirely of meandering strings that the author refused to wrap up. Silvera may have been aiming for profundity with the open ending, but the execution was floundering and struggled to create any emotional pay-off. In general, the writing was too heavy on pathos and melodrama to be enjoyable for me.

I know a lot of people love this book, and it’s exciting that Silvera is writing own voices books about queer boys of colour, but for me, this really missed the mark. To top it all off, the author included a completely unnecessary jab at homeless people, which re-confirmed that even people coming from poverty can have deeply internalised classist attitudes. Considering these attitudes of Silvera’s and my general dislike of his writing, it’s unlikely that I will be picking up any other books by this author.

Top Ten Tuesday: Platonic Relationships in Books

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To learn more about Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly book meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, click here.

I was really excited when I saw that the theme for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was platonic relationships because I love platonic relationships. Found families, snarky siblings, unlikely friendships – they’re all my jam. Here are, in no particular order, my top ten platonic relationships in books.


#1 Percy and Sally Jackson (Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan)

Cover of Percy Jackson and the Lightning ThiefMy mother can make me feel good just by walking into the room. Her eyes sparkle and change color in the light. Her smile is as warm as a quilt. She’s got a few grey streaks mixed in with her long brown hair, but I never think of her as old. When she looks at me, it’s like she’s seeing all the good things about me, none of the bad.

It’s always so obvious how much Percy and his mom love each other, and that they would do anything for each other, and that’s why I love them.


#2 Pepper (Jane) and Owl (Wayfarers Series by Becky Chambers)

Owl had been good to her. She stayed on the screen by the bed all day, and she taught Jane about something called music, which was a weird bunch of sounds that had no point but made things feel a little better.

The Wayfarers Series is chock-full of wonderful found family dynamics, but this AI becoming a parent to a little girl in need is my favourite. Their relationship is so sweet and sometimes heart-wrenching.


#3 Shahrzad and Irsa (The Wrath and the Dawn Duology by Renée Ahdiee)

Cover of The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh“Do you trust me, Jirjirak?” Shahrzad took Irsa’s hands in her own.

Irsa had never known what to expect from Shahrzad. But trust had never been an issue. At least not for Irsa.

“Of course I trust you,” she said.

This exchange, and their relationship in general, just says so much about sisterhood and solidarity.


#4 Scarlett and Reem (Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham)

“We’re going to Jumu’ah prayers together.”

“I’d like that,” I said. And it was true. Because even though I wanted Gemma home safe and Solomon’s ring in my pocket and the Children of Iblis destroyed, what I needed more than anything else was to stay alive long enough to pray with my sister on Friday.

This is another relationship between sisters who really, really love each other even though they don’t always see eye to eye. Their affection for each other is heart-warming.


#5 Katsa and Bitterblue (Graceling Trilogy by Kristin Cashore)

Katsa hugged her for a long time, and Bitterblue understood that this was always how it would be. Katsa would come and then Katsa would go. But the hug was real, and lasting, even though it would end. The coming was as real as the going, and the coming would always be a promise. It would have to be good enough.

It means so much to me for Bitterblue, a traumatised child, to find safety in Katsa, and for Katsa to find strength in Bitterblue.


#6 Peter Grant and Sahra Guleed (Rivers of London Series by Ben Aaronovitch)

Cover of The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch“I don’t know if you’ve noticed but just about everyone else is off working that murder in Fulham,” said Guleed. “It’s basically you, me and whatever time we can bully out of David.”

“I hadn’t noticed,” I said, although it did explain where everyone else was that morning.

“Not surprising,” said Guleed. “You were too busy blowing up Harrods.”

Snarky coworkers who respect each other (kind of). Their dynamic is one of my favourites in the series. I haven’t gotten around to reading the comics featuring both of them yet, but I definitely will at some point.


#7 Mae and Jamie (The Demon’s Lexicon Trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan)

Cover of The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan“Oh, I am planning things,” said Jamie. “Great, great things. I could join a band.”

“You gave up the guitar after two lessons.”

“Well,” he said, “I could be a backup dancer.”

“Backup dancers have to wear belly shirts and glitter,” said Mae. “So obviously, I support this plan.”

Silly bantering siblings who would literally lay down their lives for each other? Sign me up.


#8 Kate and Julie (Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews)

Kate looked at me. It was her hard-ass stare. Kate could be really scary.

“That doesn’t work on me,” I told her. “I know you won’t hurt me.”

The Kate Daniels series is one of my forever favourites, and these two are so near and dear to my heart. Kate has a tendency of adopting strays, and even though she acts like a hard-ass, she’s really mushy on the inside.


#9 Samirah and Magnus (Magnus Chase Series by Rick Riordan)

15724396“Somebody once told me that a hero’s bravery has to be unplanned – a genuine response to a crisis. It has to come from the heart, without any thought of reward.”

Sam huffed. “That somebody sounds pretty smug.”

“Maybe you didn’t need to come here,” I decided. “Maybe I did. To understand why we’re a good team.”

This relationship is a great example of the kind of friendship dynamic I like: some bickering, some teasing, but mostly lots of love and respect.


#10 Cinder and Iko (The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer)

“You need a system debug if you’re suggesting that I would abandon you now.”

You didn’t think I could end this post without another mention of an unusually emotional AI, did you? Cinder’s and Iko’s unwavering loyalty to each other definitely earns them a spot on this list. They seem very different from the outside, but they’re really not so different if you look close, and all the more protective of each other.


Comment below to let me know what your favourite platonic relationships are! Are you a found family fiend like me?

Mini Reviews: Aru Shah and the End of Time, Scarlett Undercover

I just finished Aru Shah and the End of Time, but it’s been a while since I read Scarlett Undercover. I still wanted to share my thoughts about it though, and since both of these have shared themes of mythology and sisterhood, I figured I’d stick them in a Mini Reviews post together.


Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Rating: Three star rating represented by three bumblebees(3 out of 5)

Cover of Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani ChokshiTwelve-year-old Aru Shah has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru’s doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don’t believe her claim that the museum’s Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again.

But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that?

I’m a huge fan of Rick Riordan and I love learning about mythology. I’ve been looking forward to picking up the Rick Riordan Presents books ever since they were announced, and Aru Shah and the End of Time was no exception.

Going especially by the more recent Riordan books, my expectations may have set an unfair example for Aru Shah and the End of Time to live up to. It just just skewed a bit younger than I was expecting, which dampened my enjoyment a little. The writing was on the simpler side, and everything seemed to happen too quickly for my taste. It felt like the solutions to the protagonists’ problems kept falling into their laps more often than not.

However, I still think this would be a very enjoyable book for younger kids. Aru is a spunky but vulnerable heroine, and I loved the relationship between her and her found sister, Mini. Another focal relationship is the one between Aru and her mother, which grows closer as Aru learns more about the past and her family’s secret. The bits from Hindu mythology were sometimes fun, sometimes brutal, always fascinating – as mythology tends to be.

I don’t think I will be picking up the next book in this series because it wasn’t entirely my cup of tea, but I will definitely still be giving Chokshi’s books for older readers a try!


Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

Rating: Five star rating represented by five bumblebees (5 out of 5)

Cover of Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer LathamMeet Scarlett, a smart, sarcastic, kick-butt, Muslim American heroine, ready to take on crime in her hometown of Las Almas. When a new case finds the private eye caught up in a centuries-old battle of evil genies and ancient curses, Scarlett discovers that her own family secrets may have more to do with the situation than she thinks — and that cracking the case could lead to solving her father’s murder.

I was in a weird headspace while reading this book so I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but this was without a doubt one of my favourite reads of 2018. Some time had passed between this first landing on my TBR and my finally picking up and I didn’t reread the synopsis then, so I was surprised and delighted by the supernatural and mythological elements of this.

With regards to tone and subject matter, this might best be described as Veronica Mars meets Rivers of London, but it’s so much more than that. It’s unique, the main character has an engaging voice, and the action is fast-paced and character-driven. Again, I especially enjoyed the bond between Scarlett and her older sister Reem who both clearly love each other a lot. I appreciated that Reem wasn’t entirely relegated to the maternal role even though they are orphans, but is a kick-ass in her own right.

The representation is great. Aside from having a diverse cast of Muslim American characters, this book is also repping Black Jews, which is still all too rare. I’m not sure whether there will be a sequel, but if there was I would snap it up in seconds. Scarlett Undercover is definitely a candidate for a reread. I would recommend it to anyone who loves a gumshoe mystery with a supernatural twist (with content warnings for parental death and teenage suicide.)

Review: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Rating: one (1 out of 5)

bellesCamellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be.

Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

The synopsis of this book is intriguing, but unfortunately it’s also the most exciting thing about it, along with the stunning cover. The premise is quite unique, even though it did remind me of The Lone City trilogy by Amy Ewing in some aspects.

Clayton’s world-building is disappointing. She introduces some fascinating concepts (the vivant dresses, steampunk-inspired knick-knacks such as the post-balloons), but fails to ever get into the nitty-gritty of how they work. There’s nothing wrong with painting with a broad brush, but the world-building of The Belles barely had any depth at all. The writing is bland, and the descriptions of opulent Orléans consist of superficial enumerations.

The characters were all rather one-dimensional. Clayton mostly fails to give her characters more than one defining trait, and their actions very clearly reflect whatever the author needed from them at any given moment. As a result, none of the characters ever fully come to life.

This extends to the main character, Camellia Beauregard, whose main aspiration is to become the royal favorite. Once that dream has been fulfilled, the author tries to provide Camellia with a few different motivations, but none of them are ever fleshed out and pursued in earnest. Camellia is supposed to carry the plot, but her flitting back and forth between opposite decisions only serves to frustrate. Equally irritating is her tendency not to question any inconsistencies about her very existence until the plot suddenly calls for it. After reading the synopsis, I was expecting a high-stakes fast-moving story, not the inconsistent mess that I got.

The romance in The Belles was extremely lackluster. There was no chemistry between Camellia and her love interest at all. What was intended as playful banter actually translated into pages upon pages of unengaging dialogue, even causing me to skip some parts just to get back to the plot. Overall, the dialogue was info-dumpy and lacking in flow, not to mention that Clayton is overly fond of the dialogue word “holler.”

I could have forgiven all of this as well as all of the little mistakes made in the French the author used. But Clayton made one mistake that I found truly unforgivable: she buried her gays. There were two queer women in The Belles, both in relationships with other women, and by the end of the book both of them were dead.

Additionally, another one of the characters is actually a trans woman, which at first I thought was amazing, until she, too, ended up in what could be a fatal situation. Her fate is unresolved at the end of the book, but I’m not holding my breath for the sequel.

I was originally going to give this two stars, but in writing my review I realised how much I actually disliked it. It’s a shame that what could have been a wonderful diverse book written by a woman of colour turned out to be such a disappointment.

Review: The Graceling Trilogy by Kristin Cashore

I only really warmed up to the Graceling trilogy by Kristin Cashore with the second book, Fire (haha, get it? warmed up?) I’m so glad I stuck with it after my initial reservations because it just kept getting better and better. This is why all three books ended up with different ratings:

Graceling: Three star rating represented by three bumblebees (3 out of 5 Ramblebees)

Fire: Four star rating represented by four bumblebees (4 out of 5 Ramblebees)

Bitterblue: Five star rating represented by five bumblebees (5 out of 5 Ramblebees)

The overarching theme of the trilogy is young women finding their place in the world in the face of difficult choices, and reclaiming their kindness in adverse circumstances, both of which happen to be some of my favourite tropes.

The covers of Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Graceling is the first book in the trilogy. It tells the story of Lady Katsa, niece and executor to her tyrannical uncle, King Randa of the Midluns in the Seven Kingdoms. Marked as a graceling by her differently coloured eyes and graced with killing, she’s a threat to all who cross King Randa, until she decides to defy her uncle. She builds an underground organisation known as the Council which fights against the many abuses of power in the Seven Kingdoms. In the course of her work with the organisation, Katsa realises King Leck of Monsea is not all that he claims to be. As she races to rescue his ten-year-old daughter from his tyrannical clutches, she not only discovers new truths but new strengths as well.

Fire, the second book in the trilogy, is a prequel to Graceling. Set in a country East of the Seven Kingdoms, it tells the story of the Lady Fire, a so-called monster with colourful hair and the gift of reading and molding people’s thoughts. Her now dead monster father and abuser, once adviser to the king, has plunged the kingdom into upheaval with his taste for chaos. With civil war imminent, Fire has to decide whether or not to use her abilities without becoming like her father.

The third book, Bitterblue, picks up eight years after Graceling left off. The now eighteen-year-old Bitterblue is Queen of Monsea but feels like she has no knowledge about or control over her kingdom. Her advisers’ curious lies and evasions both about her father’s past reign and the present conditions in the kingdom lead her to investigate. With the support of Katsa and her Council friends, Bitterblue sets off in search of the truth and discovers that the wounds from her father’s reign she considered healed are more present than ever, and that it will be a long road towards recovery.

I enjoyed Graceling well enough, but it had a few flaws that nearly made me abandon the trilogy. The world-building was interesting and I liked the characters and their relationships with each other, especially the bond between Katsa and Bitterblue. However, plot-wise the book felt closer to a draft than a finished product. All of the important story elements were there, but they were rather loosely connected and didn’t quite knit together into a satisfying arc. The story could have benefitted from being stretched out a little, which would have made the plot twists less predictable.

I had gone into this book with high expectations because it had been recommended to me as great asexual representation several times, so I was a bit disappointed that the writing let down the great premise and characters. However, a friend assured me that I would enjoy the remaining books in the trilogy which led me to pick up Fire after all.

Fire still had some of the same weaknesses that Graceling did, but less markedly so. I again would have preferred a bit more stringency in pulling all the different story elements together, but the plot was overall coherent and satisfying. In spite of this, I found myself wishing time and time again that Fire had been the first book in the trilogy. I suspect that the author chose to publish the books out of chronological order so that the revelation of Leck’s grace would have more of an impact, but as mentioned above the twists in Graceling were predictable due to its slight incoherency. Only a couple of tweaks would have been necessary to publish the books in chronological order, which in my opinion would have worked in favour of coherency. Looking back while reading Fire, I appreciated Graceling a lot more, and I feel like I would have enjoyed it more if I had read Fire first.

The final book in the trilogy, Bitterblue, unequivocally blew me away. It picked up all the loose ends from the previous two books and combined them masterfully into a nail-biting finale. Cashore’s writing evolves wonderfully throughout the trilogy, and it was fascinating to see her real skills unfold and shine in this third book. The characters’ motivations were more implicit, which held me in suspense waiting for the myriad questions and inconsistencies to be resolved. Being fed the conclusion trickle by trickle was sweet agonising torture and I loved every bit of it. Bitterblue coming into her own as both a woman and a queen was exciting to watch. It was a bit different from both Katsa’s and Fire’s arcs considering that both of them had an inherent physical power that they needed to come to grips with, while Bitterblue had to consolidate and grow into a less tangible power, but the overarching theme was still very much present, tying all three of the books together.

I appreciated the fact that all three of the female main characters were allowed to be emotional and unreasonable at times without being labelled as hysterical. Emotional outbursts were treated as natural, and they didn’t result in the other characters respecting either Katsa, Fire, or Bitterblue any less.

In addition to her great treatment of women, Cashore also had a diverse cast of characters. Characters’ differing looks and complexions were described casually. There were a number of physically disabled characters. One important character and love interest loses his eyesight, another supporting character is without use of his legs and uses a wheelchair, and one of the main characters loses two fingers due to frostbite and has to relearn how to use her hand. Of course, there are also a whole slew of characters who suffer from trauma and related mental illness. A word of warning though: the circumstances that these characters’ trauma results from are brutal and upsetting, including emotional and physical abuse and even rape, so the trilogy might be triggering for some readers.

The queer representation was okay. Katsa can very easily be read as being on the asexual and aromantic spectrum, while Fire explicitly states her attraction to women and men. In spite of two out of three main characters being queer women though, all of the main relationships in the Graceling trilogy are M/F, which I found a bit disappointing. There are however two explicitly queer supporting couples, one of them F/F and one of them M/M.

Overall, I really ended up loving this trilogy, even though it didn’t start out as strong as it could have.