January 11, 2010

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

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Katsa was born with a special ability and is known as a Graceling. Others in Katsa's world have Graces that are different for each person, and each Grace is defined as a superhuman ability to do a task- swimming, fighting, archery, and mind-reading to name a few. Katsa's Grace is deadly. When she was just a child she killed a man quickly, and without truly meaning to do it. Her uncle, King Randa, decided then to allow Katsa to hone her Grace, and then tasked her with the duty to bully or kill anyone that defied his authority.

Katsa's life continues this way until she meets Prince Po who is searching for his kidnapped grandfather. Katsa befriends Po because she able to fight him, and he is able to stand up to her beatings. Their relationship quickly turns into friendship. Po gives Katsa the ability to look at her Grace, and herself in ways she could never have imagined before.

I can't really summarize this story anymore without giving away too many plot points.

Cashore is a wonderful world-builder. She has a way of creating such vivid and wonderful history and scenery that the reader will be submersed in the novel completely. Katsa, although stubbron and angry, is easily relateable as a character and main voice of this novel. Katsa is used to being defined by her ability as a bully for her uncle King. She may find ways to work outside her uncle's notice, but she still feels defined by what he asks her to do. Her world view is thoroughly challenged by Po who is Graced as well. The progression of the novel shows a great progression of Katsa not only in her life, but how she perceives herself as well.

Although there were a couple predictable story lines in Graceling none of them felt forced. Instead they progressed naturally, and comfortably. Cashore took her time to allow events and changes to happen in a way that mimicked life. In this way Cashore has shown a real ability to allow natural growth occur in her novels without losing her readers. Although I felt that this method of story telling did cause the novel to drag at times over all the effect causes the readers to really know and understand the characters. Graceling is a perfect example of a character driven story that really succeeds.

The only real problems I saw with Graceling, beyond the points where the novel dragged, was the closeness that Katsa and Fire had to each other. (For more about Fire read my review on that book.) Like Fire, Katsa refuses marriage or children although the purposes of this are not fully fleshed out. Fire refuses children or marriage because she wants her monster genes to die off with her. Katsa simply refuses marriage or children because she wants to be completely independent. She doesn't want to have to report herself to anyone but herself. Her motives for choosing a marriage-less and child-less life are completely selfish and not to keep her future children from becoming Gracelings. There are no genetic co-relations between Graced people having only Graced children. Quite the contrary, non-Graced people have Graced children. It isn't quite explained how or why Gracelings are born, but this simply strikes me as odd. One would think that eventually this selfish motivation would change, but it does not.

Like Fire, Katsa is constantly the center of attention because of her differently colored eyes, and is constantly and easily recognized. However I truly wonder how easy it would be to really notice that a person has differently colored eyes. Whenever I see someone with heterochromia it takes me a while to actually catch it. And, if Gracelings are so abundant, why would anyone really take notice of her immediately. Variations in eye color for Katsa, one green eye and one blue eye, aren't as fantastic as Po's, one gold eye and one silver eye. Yes, she is famous as her Uncle King's henchmen, but I had to wonder how people could really distinguish her so easily when all her fame was word of mouth.

Over all though Graceling is a book that deserves it's popularity. Cashore is such a talented writer and story teller I can't wait to see her third book, Bitterblue, which she is currently writing. If it is anything like Fire or Graceling I'm sure readers will be in for a treat.

Edit: Read an amendment to this review posted 01/19/10.


Erika said...

I noticed that my daughter was reading this. I think that she got through about half before she lost interest.

Sami said...

I can see that. It's almost 500 pages long, and like I said it dragged a bit.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I loved GRACELING. It is so good to see strong female leads in YA.
Thanks for stopping by today!

Sami said...

Thanks! I loved it too. Things bothered me about it, but Cashore is a talented author.

Angela Craft said...

As someone who isn't all that interested in having children myself, I can't really see Katsa's choice to not have children as selfish. Rather, I think her choice is the responsible one - she knows she wants to be free to run around and do what she wants, which includes putting herself in danger in order to help other people, and if she had a child it would be impossible to fulfill her goals.

I met Kristin Cashore at a book signing in November and actually asked her why she had written two characters that were so adamantly against children (especially since we rarely see characters that have an opinion on that in YA). She brought up an excellent point: although both characters have the same desire (no kids) they manifest in entirely different ways: Katsa actually draws strength from her choice, while for Fire it's a great tragedy, and while the choice doesn't play out in the narrative as important, those are important character-shaping moments.

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