by Kristin Cashore
Young Adult Fiction — Fantasy
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…”
The story in Graceling revolves around the work Katsa does with the Council, an underground group she started to protect the people of the Seven Kingdoms from unfair abuse perpetrated by those in power. Katsa may be Graced with killing, but she doesn’t enjoy her Grace and it doesn’t give her any pride. Her uncle–the king of the Middluns–uses her as his personal thug, sending her to torture or kill those people whom he thinks have wronged him in some way, no matter how petty the wrong may have been. So Katsa started the Council as a way to save her sanity and balance out the terrible things she has done in the name of the king. When the story opens, Katsa and the Council are saving Prince Tealiff–the father of the Lienid king–from the dungeons of King Murgon of Sunder. The Council has decided to hide Tealiff and keep him safe until they can figure out who wanted him kidnapped in the first place. Enter Prince Po, Tealiff’s grandson, who is traveling the Seven Kingdoms in his own search for clues in his grandfather’s kidnapping. Katsa and Po meet, [spoilers] happen, and the story moves on from there.
Katsa is a strong character and a good role model for teenage readers–she’s tough, she’s independent, she stands up for what she believes in, and she possesses a positive set of morals and values. At the same time, she isn’t infallible–she makes mistakes, she loses her temper, and sometimes she needs an advisor to be the voice of reason. The combination of these characteristics makes her very realistic and someone who teenage girls can relate to and look up to.
(Small spoilers below about the relationship between Katsa and Po)
There has been a lot of discussion–most of which I found on Goodreads–about whether or not Katsa is a good role model and a strong character. Most of this discussion centers on Katsa’s views about marriage and having children; Katsa never wants to get married and she never wants to have children. Katsa believes that in order to stay truly free and independent she can never make a serious commitment like marriage, and in her world, marriage leads to childbirth which is another thing that would take away her freedom and independence. Of course, as these stories go, Katsa and Po are doomed to fall in love, and Katsa is immediately upfront with Po concerning her aversion to being tied down. Po is the one who offers to have her as his companion anyway she’d like, even if that means not getting married and dealing with her taking off when she needs to. To some, this is a horrible thing Katsa is doing to Po and they wonder what people would say if the roles were reversed. Others disagree with her reasoning concerning marriage and children and what those two things mean for a person’s freedom and independence. Regardless of what side of the discussion I’m on, this is the main issue I have with the book:
The romantic relationship between Po and Katsa never needed to take place, and the story would have been much better without it.
The storyline is good–really good–and it would have worked out with very few changes needed if Katsa and Po had just remained friends. Best friends would still have done all of the things in the story (aside from having sex, maybe) and their actions would still have made sense. The romance wasn’t the least bit necessary, and I felt like it didn’t even fit with the rest of the story that well. There would have been no need for Po and Katsa to come to some sort of agreement over their romantic relationship if the conversation had just gone like this:
“Katsa, I’m in love with you.”
“Well, Po, I like you, too, but I don’t ever want to get married so let’s just be good friends.”
Done. (I mean, there would have been a little more to the story with Po probably struggling with his feelings at first, but he would have gotten over it and there wouldn’t have been this weird romance to complicate an already good storyline.)
At the same time, I appreciate that Cashore wrote about a situation in which the two parties in a romantic relationship have mutually agreed to never get married and to keep the relationship light. I really like that Cashore made it a point to write about a young woman who had no desire for marriage or children. So while I think the story would have done better without romance of any sort, I like the way Cashore chose to have their relationship work.
(End of kind-of-spoilers about Katsa and Po)
I’m not a huge fan of Po–he’s too perfect which makes him a bit unbelievable–but his character didn’t actively annoy me or anything, and I didn’t enjoy the story any less because of him.
With the exception of the unnecessary romance, Graceling is a pretty good book. I don’t normally get into books for young adults, but I enjoyed this one. I like the idea of people being Graced and what that entails, I really like Katsa and her personal convictions, and most of the other characters in the book are well-written, too. The storyline is good and made me want to keep reading when I should have been putting the book down. I’m looking forward to reading the other two books in this series. From what I gather, the other two books–Fire and Bitterblue–aren’t a continuation of the story in Graceling, but are each about a different character from the story in Graceling. If I understand this correctly, Fire is the background story of King Leck, and Bitterblue is about Leck’s daughter…Bitterblue.
I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading young adult fantasy.
Aside: There is some detailed violence in the book, and there is mention of sex, although the sex scenes aren’t at all detailed or frequent.
(To learn more about Kristin Cashore, please visit her website.)
**If you choose to purchase this title using any of the links below, I will receive a small percentage of the sale (to be used toward site maintenance and buying more books).