Thursday, November 19, 2009

Graceling - Kristin Cashore

Title: Graceling
Author: Kristin Cashore
Publisher: Graphia, 2009 (Paperback)
Length: 471 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy/Action
Started: November 12, 2009
Finished: November 19, 2009

From the back cover:
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 . . .

I literally just finished this book about a half and hour ago and wanted to write about it while it was still quite fresh in my mind. This took me a week to read only because life kept throwing things at me (namely my husband's birthday celebrations), but to be honest I'm not complaining, it gave me more time to spend with this book (I would have devoured it in a day or two if I had uninterrupted time). There are numerous books I've read before that deal with very similar concepts to Graceling: powers unique to an individual, political turmoil in kingdoms, even the savage female soldier. Graceling, however, made it seem as if I'd never encountered any of these tropes before, the story was fresh and well-written.

I'll start with thoughts on Katsa: I loved her. It wasn't just that she could beat anyone to a bloody pulp, she was amazingly well-rounded. She has a very sarcastic sense of humour and such a wonderful control-freak, in that respect she reminded me a little of myself. Descriptions of the plot seem to focus on Katsa and her savagery, she even mentions it herself numerous times, but to be honest, I didn't really get a sense of that as I was reading. Perhaps it's one of those things that you need to actually see to get a sense of the intensity (like if her fight scenes were made into a movie), but I didn't really see 'savage', just 'girl with amazing fighting skills' like you'd see in a karate studio. Either way, Katsa is definitely set in her ways and if she gets it in her head to do something or not, she follows through. This particular trait comes across when the issue of marriage comes across, to which Katsa is fervently against, and she maintains that she wants her life to be her own. Granted, she's not anti-love, just anti-limits, which marriage is (for some women anyway) in the world of Graceling.

The rest of the characters were surprising, usually there's a couple characters in a novel I just can't stand, but I genuinely liked them all. Po is witty, Raffin and Bann are sweet, and the various kings are wonderfully evil. I have to admit though that I fell in love with Po's cousin Bitterblue, just her name was enough to endear her to me (the fact that she's a plucky little ten-year-old helped too).

The plot follows through a few things until you meet with the major events of the book, it's very engrossing and the action scenes between Katsa and Po help liven up any parts that seem slow. Though romance isn't the focus of the book, I really like how Katsa and Po's relationship was portrayed (I can't say anything more without entering the realm of super spoilers). Also, I have to give the author credit for perhaps creating one of the best antagonists I've read recently, so so creepy and disgusting on so many levels (I love my psycho-creep villains).

If you want an engaging story with really amazing, well-developed characters, then read it! Might not be the best choice for younger readers (unless they're mature for their age), as there's mention of cruelty to animals and sexual molestation/rape of young girls.

Thoughts on the cover:
I really like this cover for a few reasons. The colours are wonderfully complementary, everything together looks like an old tapestry, and Katsa's face reflected in the blade is a great touch. I wish they had been able to fit more of her face in the reflection so you could see both of Katsa's eyes since heterochromia (each eye a different colour) is such a big part of Graceling.

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