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Kristin Cashore – Graceling

November 23, 2009

137. Graceling by Kristin Cashore (2008)
Graceling, Book 1

Read By: David Baker and a full cast
Length: 12h 30min (480 pages)

Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy

Started: 02 November 2009
Finished: 12 November 2009

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I like young adult fantasy in general, and the wave of “OMGyouhavetoreadthis”-ness from my fellow book bloggers was pretty convincing, but I’ll give Darla’s review the nod for tipping me over the edge.

Make fun of her eyes
and she’ll kick your ass. But she’ll
feel bad about it.

Summary: Katsa is special. Born with one blue eye and one green – the mark of the Graced – Katsa is a near-unbeatable fighter, either with her hands or with any weapon she holds. Her uncle, King Randa, has turned Katsa’s Grace to his advantage, using her as his enforcer, thug, and assassin. Katsa’s not happy with this role, however, and has started a secret society committed to righting wrongs on the sly. On one of their missions to rescue a kidnapped old man from the dungeons of a neighboring king, Katsa meets Po, who is a prince in his own right, the grandson of the old man, and who possesses a fighting Grace that can match Katsa’s own. They become sparing partners, and eventually friends, but the question of Po’s grandfather’s kidnapping gnaws at them. Who would order such a thing, and why? They set out to investigate, but what they find is a threat so great that it might engulf all of the seven kingdoms… if they can’t find a way to stop it.

Review: The short version? I enjoyed the heck out of it. I enjoyed it so much I was creating opportunities to go and listen to more of it, cheerfully volunteering for one of the most boring tasks at work, just because it’s a task I could do with my headphones on. I’m actually having a really hard time putting my finger on exactly why I liked it so much, but before I start dissecting it, I just want to reiterate: Graceling was compelling, relatable, exciting, and a thoroughly great read.

In almost all particulars, Graceling is very very similar to a Tamora Pierce novel. Teen heroine who has some special ability that sets her apart from everyone else, who’s good at almost everything she does, even though these powers make her somewhat of an outsider? Check and check. Romantic interest who is also special/supernatural/powered in some way, and is therefore the only guy who can ever hope to keep up with our heroine? Both have ’em. (As a side note, I now have enough of a bookcrush on Po that I’m willing to overlook his metallic-colored eyes, which is ordinarily a huge pet peeve.) Plot involving political intrigue and corruption within a medieval fantasy kingdom? Yup. A healthy mix of coming-of age, romance, action, plotting, and witty banter? Yes across the board. The only real difference I can pick out is that Pierce’s books have more magic/mythology, with direct involvement by the gods, while the origin of the Graces is never really explained. There’s not even a method-of-consumption bias: I listened to both of them done by Full Cast Audio (which took me a while to get into, but eventually wound up being very enjoyable; a lot of the voice actors did really excellent work). So, even though there’s not much to chose between them, while Pierce’s books are reliably enjoyable, none of them knocked my socks off the way Graceling did.

In fact, the only thing I can find to ding Graceling for is a bit of heavy-handed expository worldbuilding in the early chapters. The nature of the Graces, the political layout of the various kingdoms, etc., are all presented flat out in a way that doesn’t feel particularly organic to the story or the characters, instead of being more subtly woven in. Still, it is a very interesting world that’s being set up, and once it’s established, everything flows much more smoothly, and the character development and story development are handled with considerable skill, especially given that this is Cashore’s first novel. I also really appreciated both the strong feminist lead, and the overall sensibility and mature handling of some thorny issues. Overall, even though I can’t entirely define *why* I enjoyed it so much, I found it absolutely engrossing, I was sad that it was over, and I already have Fire queued up on my iPod. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Fans of Tamora Pierce or those who like YA fantasy with a strong feminist twist should definitely put Graceling at the top of their list. Even those who aren’t particular fantasy fans but who like a good coming-of-age story with solid doses of romance, humor, and action should check it out; I don’t think the fantasy elements are prevalent enough to be off-putting.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Kristin Cashore’s blog

Other Reviews: Angieville, At Home with Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, The Book Nest, Books and Movies, Books and Other Thoughts, Bookshelves of Doom, Boy With Books, Dear Author, Into the Wardrobe, The Magic of Ink, Medieval Bookworm, Page 247, The Reading Zone, Regular Rumination, S. Krishna’s Books, Stella Matutina, Tiny Little Reading Room, Today’s Adventure, YA Fabulous, YAnnabe
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: In these dungeons the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind.

Cover Thoughts: It’s pretty standard fare as far as medieval fantasy covers go, but I like the color palette, and I only just realized when looking at the large version that there’s an eye reflected in the blade. Tres cool.

36 Comments leave one →
  1. November 23, 2009 3:29 pm

    Glad you loved it! I thought Fire, the prequel, was even more amazing. :)

    • November 24, 2009 12:15 pm

      Carrie – I’m listening to Fire now, and I’m finding that I’m not getting into it as much. It may be because I’m listening in smaller chunks – something I hope to correct on the drive home for Thanksgiving!

  2. November 23, 2009 4:37 pm

    This is definitely one I want to read at some point! Being reminded of these great books I’ve been wanting to read, is seriously making be question my upcoming book-acquiring ban! :)

  3. November 23, 2009 8:30 pm

    Loved this one. I’m so glad that you did, too! I can’t wait until my copy of FIRE arrived!

  4. November 23, 2009 10:25 pm

    I so want to read this book! Thanks for an awesome review.

    • November 24, 2009 12:16 pm

      Heather – I hope you get the chance to pick it up – it was really a fun read.

  5. November 24, 2009 11:17 am

    I loved this book too! I haven’t heard of Tamora Pierce, I’ll have to look up some of her books. Do you have any recommendations for a good book to start with by her?

    • November 24, 2009 12:22 pm

      Alyce – Tamora Pierce has written two main series of books – the Tortall books and the Winding Circle books. Each has a bunch of smaller series (either quartets or duologies) contained within the bigger universe. I’ve only read the Tortall books.

      They’re written so that you could potentially read each quartet independently, but there’s enough overlap that you may as well start at the beginning with Alanna: The First Adventure, the first of the Song of the Lioness quartet.

  6. November 24, 2009 5:07 pm

    I couldn’t really figure out why I like this book either, so I haven’t reviewed it yet. I think the comparison to Tamora Pierce is a good one though — I loved her fantasy books when I was in high school.

    • November 27, 2009 12:31 pm

      Kim – I didn’t start on Tamora Pierce’s books until a few years ago; I think if I could have laid hands on them when I was younger I would have loved them to pieces.

  7. November 24, 2009 10:55 pm

    I really do need to read this! I have not read a single bad review for this or Fire.

    • November 27, 2009 12:32 pm

      Ladytink – I’ve seen a few, but it seems like they’re mostly from people who don’t like the fact that Katsa is so dismissive of marriage.

  8. November 25, 2009 4:08 pm

    Now you have to read Fire. Muahaha.

    • November 27, 2009 12:33 pm

      Cara – Already 3/4 of the way through it, and will probably finish it on my drive home after the Thanksgiving holidays. So far, so good! :)

  9. November 26, 2009 1:05 am

    I enjoyed Graceling in general, but felt that the ending was a sad end to an unique character ie. Katsa. But, I have to ask how many books by Tamora Pierce have you read? You have to read in a seemingly intresting order to get a feel for them (the books by Tamora Pierce.)

    • November 27, 2009 12:37 pm

      fyrebyrdbooks – I’ve read all of the Tortall books except the two prequels, and I read them in order. I haven’t read any of the Circle books.

  10. November 26, 2009 1:32 am

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this one! It’s on my TBR pile and I’m really trying not to get too high expectations after all the hype. Hopefulling I’ll get it read by Christmas!

    • November 27, 2009 12:39 pm

      Kay – Oh noes, the dreaded hype! :) Hopefully that doesn’t ruin it for you – it’s not like it’s The Bestest Book Ever, but it is a solid and very enjoyable YA fantasy adventure. I hope you get the chance to pick it up soon, and I hope you like it as much as the rest of us have!

  11. November 29, 2009 7:53 pm

    I really enjoyed this book and FIRE! I am looking forward to book 3!

    • December 1, 2009 1:55 pm

      Kailana – I just finished Fire and while I enjoyed it, I definitely am looking forward to getting back to the “present.”

  12. November 30, 2009 6:17 pm

    I don’t usually read or listen to much fantasy, but this one caught my eye. I just got it and Fire from my library on audio.

    • December 1, 2009 1:55 pm

      Melissa – If you’re going to pick one fantasy book to read, this isn’t a bad choice! I hope you enjoy it!

  13. March 14, 2010 12:46 am

    I really loved this book. I think it was because it added a bunch of genres into one. It had action and adventure, fantasy, and a touch of romance. I was a little nervous about putting it on my bookshelf for my students to read though. I wasn’t sure if some of the more intimate parts were appropriate for my eighth graders.

  14. Maddy permalink
    August 10, 2010 3:19 am

    i loved Graceling. and i fell in love with Po too. i just love how he was like, “Katsa, did you cut your hair?” typical moment i can imagine. i didn’t like how in Fire the first characters were just dropped, but Fire was intriging also.


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