Author: Kristin Cashore
Release Date: October 1st, 2008
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
My rating: 3.5 Stars
Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug. When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.
With elegant, evocative prose and a cast of unforgettable characters, debut author Kristin Cashore creates a mesmerizing world, a death-defying adventure, and a heart-racing romance that will consume you, hold you captive, and leave you wanting more.
Graceling reminds me of an evolutionary theory we were taught in Biology called punctuated equilibrium. For those of you who were smart enough not to take biology, punctuated equilibrium is defined as periods of slow change followed by rapid spurts of events. The reason I compare the two is that Graceling has its own formula of punctuated equilibrium, in that it has long periods of boring description, followed by random spurts of activity. The good thing is that the spurts always took me by surprise. The bad thing is that I was bored in between them.
Many reviews I've seen describe Graceling as a wholly feminist novel, and I can see how it could be construed that way, through Katsa's resistance to anything remotely feminine. However, unlike some readers, I didn't find her annoying or too preachy. It's true that most of the male characters pale in comparison to Katsa's perfection in fighting, and that Katsa's character may be a little bit overdone. Nevertheless, I found it easy to like her, considering her position as the king's royal bully and her struggle to have control in an unstable kingdom.
The world-building is quite fascinating in this book. I don't read much high fantasy, but I liked the setting of the Seven Kingdoms. One thing I think is very well done is the concept of Graces that Cashore incorporates. It's an original idea, and the revelation of Katsa's Grace was surprising and intriguing. Also, I liked her relationship with Po, which developed slowly and reasonably. The realization that Katsa has with her feelings toward Po brings me back to the punctuated equilibrium theory in that it was dropped like a bomb and ruined all the slow development that had occurred in the beginning. Po was much more appealing than I gave him credit for, and what happens to him in the end tugged at my heartstrings, even though I'd already anticipated it.
What bothered me most with this book is that some scenes are intense, which is great, but they also happen so randomly and suddenly that they almost have a dreamlike quality. The resolution at the climax took all of a couple sentences and left me disappointed. But I don't regret reading this, given that Cashore is not a bad writer, and some of the scenes were pretty awesome (mountain lions!).
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