Book Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

by courtvanhaaren

4.5 out of 5

This novel came with an extremely high recommendation from a blogger I have become acquainted with over the last few years. I take her input seriously, so I couldn’t help but wonder at the book that she so enthusiastically praised.

(This is my quick apology for a short review)

This novel is none other than Graceling. The breakdown of the novel is fairly simple:

The setting of the novel is in a medieval land that contains seven kingdoms. These kingdoms coexist with each other decently enough. There is nothing of extreme fantasy; their lives mundanely passing by under the order of their rulers, save for the Graced children.

Graced children are a thing of wonder and fear in the kingdoms. When a child is graced, they have a specific skill set that is naturally enhanced by their genetics to an unnatural extreme. There is no understanding to the development of the graced, only the knowledge that they exist. Graced children are gave away by their eyes; two different colors advertise that they are apart from the others.

When a child is noticed to be graced, they are sent to their king to discover their talent and whether or not they are of use to the ruler. If a child’s grace is useful, such as archery or cooking, they remain with their ruler to serve royalty to the best of their grace. If the child’s grace is a waste, they are sent back to their family.

The main character, Katsa, would have lived her entire life in her kingdom’s castle, graced or not. Born as royalty, the king’s niece, she was set to be raised as a lady of the court. Her eyes gave away her being Graced, but it took a man’s death to reveal her skill set of killing. While her royalty remained, Katsa was turned from a lady of the court to the king’s killing thug.

With the king’s commands weighing her conscience, Katsa helps establish a secret group, the Counsel. This group aided those in help across the seven kingdoms in secrecy. It is a rescue mission with the Counsel that the novel takes off, revealing an intriguing tale of empowerment, love, and truth.

Writing

Truth be told, there was nothing remarkable about the writing style itself. There wasn’t any special charm in sentence structure or description, but the writing did it’s purpose: it told a story. If I had to nit-pick, there are some sections where the writing didn’t seem like it was edited well, if at all. For instance:

“Do the women wear the markings?”

“No, only the men.”

“Do the people?”

“Yes.”

That is one of the limited instances that truly irked me about the writing.

Plot Development

The entire construct of the novel is fairly simple, but when it all came together it was really a marvelous story. The story was paced extremely well. There were no parts of the story shorter or longer than necessary. Nothing was out of place; every word served its purpose to drive the story from beginning to end. The outline was easy to follow and the climax was evident. It had the characteristics of a well thought out story.

Character Development 

At the beginning of the novel I was certain that I would not take a liking or disliking to Katsa. She din’t seem like the type of heroine to stand out. She was impassive, steely, and borderline unlikable, given that she seemed to only have one dimension to her personality.

But that definitely changed as the story progressed. Katsa blossoms wonderfully as the novel goes on, taking form as an admirable, strong woman at the end. It’s a noticeable and welcome change in her. The best part about the change is that it was natural; she only fought what was truly a problem- for instance, the battle between being wed to a man she loves versus her freedom.

On the other hand, I cannot help but wonder if Po, her blatantly obvious romantic interest, is too well rounded at the beginning of the story. For the trials that they endure Po’s mindset doesn’t seem to change. There isn’t a specific distinction between the beginning and end that a reader could point out and say that he changed. That development needed to be there. It only hinted at it by physical issues that Po had, no more.

I do have to say, though, that the truly evil character of the story had a great background to him. I believe the enlightenment that went around his character was well planned. Definite kudos.

Finally, I do have to give the admission that these characters work better as a cast- Katsa and Po, Katsa and Raffin, Katsa, the princess and Po. As a stand-alone I wouldn’t say that they were among the best modern characters to date.

Concepts

Love and Intimacy 

The development of the love in Katsa and the unfolding relationship is definitely one to take note of for modern YA novels. It was really refreshing to read a development where the romance did define their characters, but was not the main focus. The relationship that Katsa and Po had was what people should recognize as a functioning relationship- both humbling and full of compromise.

The depth of the understanding between the two is something to be rivaled. Their relationship is one that would be tested and true. Their characters alone may not make the list for modern masterpieces, but their relationship, I believe, would serve as a redefining point for modern YA.

It was also refreshing to see the difference in how their intimacy worked. The scenes with fighting were described more sensually than the scenes of intimacy, which stays true to the characters’ personalities.

I love their relationship more than what I could even begin to say.

Feminism

If you’re looking for a modern feminist YA novel, this is it. No doubt about it. The fact that Katsa’s grace was based on killing was the best foundation for the novel to incorporate many different messages about women. Teach them to rely on themselves. Teach them defense. They are their own protectors. It is okay to not want to marry or have children.

Here is the best example on the topic, to give just a small taste of what justice this novel does towards women:

“How absurd it was that in all seven kingdoms, the weakest and most vulnerable of people – girls, women – went unarmed and were taught nothing of fighting, while the strong were trained to the highest reaches of their skill.”

Overall

This book is definitely worth a read. If you’re looking for a feminist friendly novel that explores romance in a healthy fashion, this is it.

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