Thursday, January 14, 2010

Review: Graceling

Young Adult Fantasy
Harcourt/October 2008
Library book

From the inside cover ~

In a world where people born with an extreme skill - called a Grace - are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him.

When she first meets Prince Po, who is 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... a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

Beautiful writing, exceptional world building and a cast of interesting characters all made Graceling pure pleasure to read. It just goes to prove that YA isn't just for the young but us older readers can enjoy an engaging, well told story regardless of the target audience.

A story where the main character has the ability to kill with her hands. Where that character is 18 years old and feared by most everyone she comes in contact with doesn't bode well for any type of romance. But I think putting aside the fantasy aspect of the story, it's the romance that surprised and engaged me the most. The slow development of Katsa and Po's relationship. Starting off as adversaries of a sort, working their way to friends and then falling in love was done with skill and... grace. :)

Katsa has got to be one of my favorite heroines. She's complex and yet simple at the same time. She has a way about her that is very direct and to the point. But she is able to look beyond what is presented to her and see what might be hidden from her. She knows how people perceive her, she's dealt with the looks and fears since she was a child. She accepts that there are very few people that she can trust and feel comfortable with. All that changes with Po. I loved their interactions, their fighting and conversations. The way Po taught Katsa to play and enjoy the moment. She was still the fighter/warrior, she never lost that but she did become more approachable, less frightening to those that had no reason to fear her.

Po is so very likable. He's intelligent and kind but a fierce fighter when he needs to be. His patience with Katsa is what made me care about him as a character rather than just like him for his abilities, if that makes sense. He seems to have this sixth sense of when to push Katsa and when to pull back. I never felt that he let her boss him around, as much as she tried. It was more that he was aware of his feelings for her much sooner than she was for him and was able to temper those feelings with his knowledge of how she feels about her Grace.

The journey Katsa and Po take is full of sumptuous imagery of the lands of the Seven Kingdoms. There is danger, both from humans and the elements. Po and Katsa are both tested in their physical and mental endurance. And their needs and wants can not always be met, they must at times put the greater good ahead of what they want, sacrifice what is most important to them. The secondary characters all help to showcase the growth of Katsa and Po. The relationship of Katsa with her cousin and childhood friend Raffin and later Po and his family. The way Po's family treated him in comparison to how Katsa was treated by her uncle, King Randa, is such a contrast you can't help but feel sorry for Katsa.

There were some unexpected turns in the plot that I didn't see coming. Cashore dealt well with the logic of the plot, making all the various threads come together. The way Katsa and Po brought out the best in each other while still maintaining that core sense of who they were made me believe that these people could exist and become the heroes they were in Graceling.

Rating: A


  1. Wonderful review, Leslie. I just know I'm going to love this book and series. Then I'm going to kick myself for having GRACELING on my shelves since December 2008! I just know it.

  2. Thanks Christine! Wow - you've had it over a year. I bet it will qualify for one of your challenges. :)

  3. Yes, I bought it "for my teen" *winkwink* for Christmas in 2008. I bought "her" FIRE for Christmas 2009.

    I have so many books I wish I read already! Just not enough time. Same old story, right?

  4. I bought The Hunger Games and Catching Fire for my teen. Odd how they're on my shelf and not hers. :) She did read them and loved them.

    Oh my gosh, I see glowing reviews for books on my tbr pile and I just wish I could read them all at once. LOL

  5. So glad you enjoyed this book Leslie. Li really liked Fire, so I bought Graceling and Fire at the beginning of the year... now I need to read it of course ;) but knowing you loved it, that helps :D

  6. nath ~ I think this is one book we will agree on. :)