Monday, August 17, 2009

REVIEW: Graceling, by Kristen Cashore

Katsa, the niece of King Randa, is Graced with the ability to kill. It's a skill that sees her exploited by her uncle and feared by all. When the father of the King of Leinid is kidnapped for seemingly no reason, Katsa meets Po, the only person whose fighting skills are anywhere near as good as hers. Realising she doesn't want to be the king's thug any longer, she and Po embark on a journey to find out just who is behind the kidnapping, and discovers that the truth is far darker than she imagined.

I have a thing for books about chicks who fight. Blame it on my formative years spent reading Tamora Pierce. It took me a little while to warm to Graceling, probably because I was expecting something like the Alana quartet. I was a little put out at first that Katsa seemed to have everything sorted: she's discovered her special abilities, she's got her fighting skills and her place in court, and she's all grown up. Things aren't supposed to be sorted in YA lit, that's their charm! But, of course, things aren't what they seem.

This isn't a Pierce book, it's a Kristen Cashore book, and when I got over my preconceptions boy did I like it. The moment it clicked for me was on pp. 64-65 of the paperback. Po has been fighting with Katsa, and Giddon, who has a wee (big, fat) crush on her, has taken umbrage to a scratch that Po has given her:

Katsa looked from one of them to the other, the two of them shaking hands, understanding each other's concern. She didn't see where Giddon came off feeling insulted. She didn't see how Giddon had any place in it at all. Who were they, to take her fight away from her and turn it into some sort of understanding between themselves? He should've taken more care of her face? She would knock his nose from his face. She would thump them both, and she would apologise to neither.

I hooted with laughter when I read this and promptly got out my green and purple pom-poms and did the feminists' victory dance all over my lounge room. There are plenty of instances in the book where she stands up for women's rights. Cashore doesn't get preachy about it; I think it just stuck out because between Bianca and her trunk-searching and apocalypses written in the 1950s I've been starved for a character I can be proud of.

This book has one of the most powerful adventure/survival sequences that I've read in a long time, one that really challenges Katsa's Grace. It reminds me a lot of the documentary film Touching the Void* because the events take her to the absolute limits of her endurance. Katsa and Po are still growing into their talents, something that wasn't apparent to me at first glance. But the pair do develop as the narrative progresses, and he's a very likable love-interest. This books is a wonderful romance as well as a great fantasy adventure, and is as satisfying as a standalone novel. Everything is thoroughly fleshed out, dealt with and tied up--apart from one thing. I'm assuming somewhere down the track we're going to see the sequel to Graceling, as things with King Randa are left unresolved. But come October 9 of this year Fire is being released, the prequel, and it's already picked up plenty of platitudes. Is Cashore writing the sequel to Graceling? If she is I'd love to know.

I'm glad I've gotten into Cashore's writing right from the beginning of her career, as I wish I had done with Maria V. Snyder. I hope we're going to see a lot more from Kashore in the future.

*This is a fantastic film from 2003. It switches between interviews with the real pair of mountaineers that climbed, and got stuck, on Siula Grande, and a re-enactment of the events. It's a very frank, gripping and emotional story, and it's also my boyfriend's favourite film. And he's a giant film nerd, so that's saying something.


  1. Graceling is the September pick on! You'll have to come join the blog talk--it'll be fun!

  2. Gosh, I can't get over how gorgeous the UK/Australian cover for Graceling is. Great review! The quote is hilarious! I'm feeling the need to reread Graceling now... :P

    - Alex

  3. I saw on Goodreads that she's writing a sequel, Bitterblue, but there's like NO info about it:

  4. Ooh, that scene you quoted is one of my very favorites as well. She's just so awesome, is Katsa. And, having read FIRE, I can safely say you will not be disappointed. Loved it. And she is writing a more direct sequel. It takes place not long after GRACELING and focuses on Bitterblue, though word is Katsa and Po will be there. Yay!

  5. Aaah, Graceling. Can you swoon when you're sitting down? Because I think I just did.

    My favourite part was realising that Katsa hadn't totally mastered her grace, and still had a lot to learn about it. Great romance too - convincing, and totally without ickiness. Love it!

  6. Bitterblue! I never even considered that but it makes a lot of sense. She's going to make a fantastic main character and queen.

    Melissa, thanks for letting me know about readergirlz, I'll check it out.

  7. Huzzah for Katsa! I loved Graceling too, and love the scene you quoted. I can definitely see where you are coming from with the desire for another Alanna-type adventure series, but I liked that Katsa and Po had more of a quest/escape book.

    And yes, the romance totally rocked. I loved it all. I cannot wait to read Fire. It's staring at me right now, beckoning.

  8. I love the Australian cover; it's gorgeous! I'm really looking forward to Fire. I enjoyed the world-building in Graceling, but I had trouble connecting with Katsa b/c she seemed so impervious to harm. I loved Po, though!

  9. Thanks for the great review! I like a good kick-ass female character, I'm not so fond of helpless female characters.

    I will definitively be reading Graceling sometime!