Kristin Cashore – Graceling
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.
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.