So, last year, I read a total of five books. Granted, my Goodreads challenge was five books, so I shouldn’t really be so hard on myself. This year, however, my Goodreads challenge is 25 books. And for 2016, I thought I’d start off on a literal bang when it came to my reading.
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…
Thanks to Goodreads for the summary.
Please be aware that this review does contain some spoilery content, but does not reveal the entire plot of the novel.
So, in a medieval world where a spit of land is divided into, essentially, North, South, East, West, and the Middle, the world of Graceling is actually not one that’s so far from our own. As someone who isn’t very big on fantasy and the different shapes of continents and the very many difficult names to remember, I found them easy to recall and even understand in this book. Cashore creates a world that’s rich, with each kingdom having a different culture and a set of rules.
Lady Kasta of the Middluns has never seen the sea. For someone who lives in the very centre of this world, Katsa doesn’t know much. And it’s refreshing. The one thing that really struck me was how different Katsa was. She may have been special, given she had a Grace, which was, essentially, an amplified ability. For me, it was like thinking about my favourite sci-fi shows — Charmed gave the Halliwell sisters powers based on their personalities: Piper was given the ability to give herself time, Prue was able to literally pull and push people to her and away from her, and Phoebe was given the chance to actually have a future. As someone who loves powers, seeing this world be graced with several different abilities was excellent. And it was, yet again, a story that had been told before.
Cashore enriches the supernaturally blessed protagonist story by giving Katsa a gift that is seen as being deadly. Katsa kills. She’s King Randa’s dog. And she thinks that of herself, too. The best thing about this book is seeing how Katsa can’t see outside of this perception Randa has given her. Her uncle is a man who is, to be honest, a dick. He uses his niece for her abilities and doesn’t seem to have much of a caring bone in his body. It makes me wonder if there’s more to him this book didn’t cover, but I suppose I’ll see.
When Katsa meets Prince Po, who is equally Graced, she meets her match. Seeing him go toe to toe with her in fighting, helping her, building her up, and showing her a brand new world as she has yet to live it fully, despite being a woman who has created the Council and travelled, was interesting to read. They then set on their adventure.
Without giving anymore away, I have to say that Katsa is pretty cool. She’s tough, rough, and oblivious to herself. She’s funny and endearing, and having her thrown against characters like Raffin, who likes to poke fun at her, and Giddon, who cares about her but she can’t see it, was a good challenge for someone like her. Having her around someone was perceptive as Po was good.
The one problem I have in YA romances is that the romance is never believable. The fact that Katsa and Po begin as friends sold me. He was there for her, and she for him. And when it came to protecting Princess Bitterblue, Katsa didn’t let love get in the way. That, my friends, was refreshing.
Along with that, the best part of this story was that, even though it seems to be marketed as a romance, it is not a romance. Po and Katsa, most definitely, are the centre of the story. But it is a mystery, a political story of reuniting a family, and saving a princess. I felt as though the romance wasn’t the core of it. It was merely a passenger along for the ride. And romance was not a defining trait of Katsa, either. As a woman who didn’t want to wed or marry, even when she found Po, she never changed. And he never expected her to. Reading about a male love interest who actually appreciates and loves our female protagonist for who she is and what she wants for herself was refreshing.
The relationships with Katsa were believable, and I appreciated that we got to see her blossom around people who weren’t her love interest. Cousin Raffin. Oll. Randa. Bitterblue. I personally wish we got to see more of Katsa and Raffin, but that may have been my personal bias toward how easy she seemed around him speaking. An issue I found was wondering why Giddon liked Katsa. Unfortunately, we didn’t spend much time with him, and it made me wonder if his affection for her was thrown in to scrape close to tossing in a love triangle in the story.
A problem I found was sometimes the narration, or language, felt a bit clunky, and I found the dialogue sometimes unbelievable. It did drag in some places, and was particularly slow, but it didn’t detract from the (literal) journey. (I also have a feeling the issue I had with the narration language was a choice on how to build the world, so, I can’t quite fault it at all.) I think it also helped I read Cashore’s blog while I was reading and found that she ensures every scene has a purpose and pushes the story, or character development, forward, so when I found it dragging, I asked myself what was the purpose it served, and found that it had one. I think she crafted her book very well.
A way to know you’ve successfully hooked me is to create a rich world and a rich bunch of side characters. Even though I felt as though Queen Ashen was fridged and was a plot device, I still want to know more about her. I want to know more about the cultures, the people, the history of the world and its characters and kings. The fact that I was more interested in King Ror and his reaction to his sister’s fate means that you have me. I love wanting to know what isn’t to be found in the pages of the book, and I do hope that it’s explored in its following two sequels.
I have many questions after the ending. And I do hope that we get them answered in the next book!
Graceling is a refreshing read, with a protagonist who is delightfully different with a romance that is incredibly believable and well balanced. It’s a fantastic read. And I’m glad I started off 2016 reading this book.
You can read my very thoughtful review of the book on Goodreads. (Contains spoilers. Isn’t very thoughtful at all.)