Monday, June 14, 2010

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Posted by Simcha 9:26 AM, under | 7 comments

Katsa’s eyes, one blue one green, have marked her as Graced since infancy, though it’s when she accidentally kills her cousin, at the age of eight, that the nature of her grace is revealed, that of killing. Katsa’s uncle, the King, quickly takes advantage of Katsa’s newly revealed Grace and turns her into his personal weapon, used to mete out cruel punishments to those who disobey him

As Katsa grows up, friendless and feared by all, she comes to view herself as nothing more than an animal, a leashed pet of the king. But the sudden realization that there may be a way for Katsa to use her Grace to help others, and not just maim and kill, gives her a new sense of purpose.

While on a secret mission to rescue the kidnapped father of the Lienid King, Katsa runs into a mysterious Graced man unlike anyone she has ever met before. As Katsa and her friends attempt to discover the purpose of the kidnapping, the Graced man, Po, reappears in Katsa’s home with information about the kidnapped victim and his own ideas as to who might have been behind it.

While at first suspicious of Po, Katsa hesitantly begins to respond to his overtures of friendship and with his encouragement discovers a new core of strength within herself which will help her break free. Together they set off to unravel the mystery of the kidnapping, discovering more about themselves and each other along the way. But as they journey towards their suspected culprit, they come to realize the extent of the danger that they are heading into, and the true darkness as the heart of the villain who they are about to confront.

I really, really liked Graceling. I actually hadn’t been expecting to as I was somewhat disappointed by Cashore’s other book, Fire, which had received such high acclaim. I also have not been particularly impressed with many of the young adult books I have read recently and didn't have such high hopes for this one.

To my delight, Graceling far exceeded my expectations, reminding me of some of my favorite YA fantasy books from when I was younger. I enjoyed every moment of this well- paced, page-turning adventure filled with well-drawn characters and interesting magical elements. Katsa is a wonderfully sympathetic character who struggles to cling to her own humanity even as she is forced to repeatedly cause pain to others. Po’s entrance into Katsa’s life causes her to reevaluate herself and her life, as he teachers her about a new kind of strength and introduces her to the idea of friendship, and then love.

Po, as a character, is just a little too perfect and understanding to seem realistic, but I loved him anyways. He is the perfect balance for Katsa, never demanding more then she can give but also standing firm when he knows she is wrong. There were some other interesting side-characters as well, including the child-princess Bitterblue and Katsa’s cousin Raffin, each of whom I would be interested in reading more about.

The idea of Grace really intrigued me and I hope that Cashore will explore it further in additional books. So far, the two books of hers that I read involved Graced members of the nobility but I would would really like to read about how being Graced effects the lower class, as well.

The pacing was well done, inviting readers into the action from the very beginning and keeping the story moving steadily forward. There were scenes of heart-pounding intensity that had me flying through the pages and slower moments of humor and romance that had me smiling to myself. Graceling fully succeeded in keeping me thoroughly engaged and entertained.

There were just a couple of flaws that gave me pause during my reading, though they didn’t detract too much from my enjoyment of the book. Bitterblue’s dialogue seemed to me unnaturally mature for the young girl she was meant to be, and as I mentioned previously, Po was just a little perfect to be fully believable. Katsa, who is very unemotional in the beginning of the story and is surprised the first time she finds herself crying, is suddenly tearing up all the time, which seemed very uncharacteristic of her. And then when the story reaches one of the climaxes that it has been heading towards, the problem gets solved a little too quickly and neatly, leaving me rather surprised. I quite liked the ending though, which provides some interesting surprises and closes the story on a satisfying note, without offering a pat happily-ever after.

After finishing Graceling I went over to Krisitn Cashore’s website to see what information it offers about future books, and was pleased to see there will be a sequel featuring princess Bitterblue. While no publication date is given for this book I’m really looking forward to rejoining Katsa, Po and Bitterblue in whatever thrilling adventure Cashore will cook up next.


Great review! I'm planning to read this one this summer!

I've been curious about this book too and your review might just be the one that will push me into getting it. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by how many YA books are out there so often times I just give up and shun the genre altogether.

Aleksandra: I hope you like it as much as I did

StephanieD: I've just found most of the YA books that I've tried to be rather inane, and very different from the kind of fantasy I used to read when I was younger. This was a nice change.

I think Fire is the second book in this series. I have both Graceling and Fire on my shelf to read. It was one of those series I bought both books, which I don't normally do. But I want to get to this book badly. And your review here makes me want to do so soon. I was going to read it about a month ago, and got side tracked with a book I received from an author for review. I am definitely going to have to make time for this one. Thanks!

I looooved Graceling!! I'm glad to see that you enjoyed it too!! I really loved both Katsa and Po :)

Melissa: Fire was written after Graceling though it's actually a prequel. You don't have to have read one to enjoy the other as they are completely separate stories. Though I did enjoy the story of Graceling a lot more than the one told in Fire.

Carrie: Yes, I also really liked Katsa and Po and I really hope that we get to see more of them in future books.

Great review!

Someone recommended this to be the other day but I kinda passed it by. But I enjoyed reading your review. Think I'll have to add this to my TBR pile!

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