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Graceling Hardcover – October 1, 2008
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If you had the power to kill with your bare hands, what would you do with it?
Graceling takes readers inside the world of Katsa, a warrior-girl in her late teens with one blue eye and one green eye. This gives her haunting beauty, but also marks her as a Graceling. Gracelings are beings with special talents—swimming, storytelling, dancing. Katsa's Grace is considered more useful: her ability to fight (and kill, if she wanted to) is unequaled in the seven kingdoms. Forced to act as a henchman for a manipulative king, Katsa channels her guilt by forming a secret council of like-minded citizens who carry out secret missions to promote justice over cruelty and abuses of power.
Combining elements of fantasy and romance, Cashore skillfully portrays the confusion, discovery, and angst that smart, strong-willed girls experience as they creep toward adulthood. Katsa wrestles with questions of freedom, truth, and knowing when to rely on a friend for help. This is no small task for an angry girl who had eschewed friendships (with the exception of one cousin that she trusts) for her more ready skills of self-reliance, hunting, and fighting. Katsa also comes to know the real power of her Grace and the nature of Graces in general: they are not always what they appear to be.
Graceling is the first book in a series, and Kristin Cashore’s first work of fiction. It sets up a vivid world with engaging characters that readers will certainly look forward to following beyond the last chapter of this book. (Ages 14 and up) --Heidi Broadhead
From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 8 Up—In this debut fantasy novel, Cashore treats readers to compelling and eminently likable characters and a story that draws them in from the first paragraph. In Katsa's world, the "Graced," those gifted in a particular way, are marked by eyes that are different colors. Katsa's Grace is that she is a gifted fighter, and, as such, she is virtually invincible. She is in the service of her tyrannical uncle, king of one of the seven kingdoms, and she is forced to torture people for infractions against him. She has secretly formed the Council, which acts in the service of justice and fairness for those who have been accused and abused. Readers meet her as she is rescuing the father of the Lienid king, who has been abducted. The reasons for his capture are part of a tightening plot that Katsa unravels and resolves, with the help of Prince Po, the captive's grandson. He has his own particular Grace, and he becomes Katsa's lover and partner in what becomes a mortally dangerous mission. Cashore's style is exemplary: while each detail helps to paint a picture, the description is always in the service of the story, always helping readers to a greater understanding of what is happening and why. This is gorgeous storytelling: exciting, stirring, and accessible. Fantasy and romance readers will be thrilled.—Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City
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Katsa, the protagonist, has the grace of killing. She lives in the Middluns kingdom where those that are graced belong to King Randa and have little freedom. The king uses her as a weapon, sending her out on missions to threaten, torture, and kill against her will. It is only when Prince Tealiff of the Lienid kingdom is kidnapped that Katsa embarks on her own mission of saving him and learning the reason for his capture. She is accompanied by some friends and allies along the way, including the charming Prince Po of Lienid.
When I first picked this book up I initially that there was a greater emphasis on the magic aspect of the story. But in actuality, it is a pretty normal setting except for the graced people. And even the skills of the graced are pretty normal: swimming, running, fighting. The only grace that we see that is particularly supernatural is mind reading.
However, the lack of a magical atmosphere did not take away from the story, or make it less interesting. Kristin Cashore somehow made the story feel very magical despite there being little of it.
The majority of the story takes place in the woods and mountains that stretch between each kingdom. The author brings whimsicalness to the natural beauty of the world. She describes trees as wide as horses, babbling creeks and trickling streams, moss covered stones and vines hanging from colorful autumn trees. We travel through the mountains where caves rest beneath cliffs and waterfalls give way to underwater tunnels. Cashore did something different than other fantasy writers in that she emphasized the already beautiful world in which we live.
It took me about 5 chapters to get into this book. The story begins abruptly, plopping you into this world with little preparation. It was confusing at first, with a lot of names of places and people being thrown over my head.
After this point, the story was fast paced and addicting, the pages coming and going breezily. There was always something happening and I don’t recall a time the story grew dull or sluggish. Despite the characters spending weeks in the wilderness, the author was able to pace it well enough that weeks passed within pages, yet the gravity of the time passage still registered with the readers.
The relationship between Katsa and Po has to be one of the healthiest and most organic relationships I have ever seen in a YA book.
They accept each other for who they are, for all their vices and virtues. Katsa learns she doesn’t need to give up her freedom or herself to be with Po. They grow together throughout the novel, yet they remain their own individual person with their own goals and desires. They do not change; they simply grow into better versions of themselves. This book beautifully showed how a relationship can build on trust and acceptance, while each partner still maintains their individuality and freedom.
Overall, I loved this book: the characters, the setting, the relationships. Magical without the typical magical qualities and the pages flew by (Seriously did not like 475 pages at all). The ending was satisfying and answered a lot of questions while also leaving room for future plots. I know the next book focuses on a different set of characters, but if it’s anything like Graceling I’m sure I’ll enjoy it!
What I thought could happen in this book: Giddon could have decided to hate Katsa and help Leck, that would have been a nice plot twist and added to the romantic struggle. Leck could have at least gotten Po's secret out before he took a knife to the face. The Lienid crew from the ship could have been more unpleasant (I get that they're supposed to be nice, but Katsa's request WAS ridiculous). Leck's background could have been explored (it was mentioned, but briefly). Katsa could have, I don't know, fought an entire legion at least? Invincible characters are no fun. And where do Randa, Raffin, and Oll fit in, really? They don't, not really. Randa could have had some sort of leverage and teamed up with Leck. Leck, all in all, could have been a WAY more threatening character.
What happened: almost every predictable thing you can think of. Hero & heroine win, evil villain dies, spell is broken, little girl is made queen, all are saved.
Don't know that I'd read Bitterblue. This book just didn't do it for me.
I loved reading about her interactions with Prince Po. Their fights were well staged and you could feel the characters coming together truly and not in the usual contrived manner some books have.
My only gripe is this. This book contains a very strong female protagonist. However, why is it that lately it seems that the only way a female hero feels empowered is by making herself look more like a man? I understand that they are fighting off outdated standards of beauty and all that nonsense, but why is it that they must forsake the characteristics that make them female in order to do so? for example, this is the fourth book Ive read where a woman cuts off all her hair, shaved to the scalp because its a "hindrance" or she is too tom boyish to know that sometimes you need to comb it. Somehow this makes her stronger, only it doesn't. You can be confident with short or long hair, with makeup or without, and just by engaging your natural beauty instead of trying to hide it. Its annoying. Id rather have a woman who is true to herself, and to her heart and one who relishes being female.
Still, Id love to continue Katsa and Po's story in future books.
Its almost a bad book to read for someone who has trouble staying in reality! But only almost! Po and Katsa are possibly my 2 favorite character's from any book! Po doesnt expect Katsa to act like a "lady" and loves her for who she is, only the strongest men have this ability, where is my real life Po?!. Katsa is so closed off in the beginning. It is like watching a child grow into an adult in Graceling. She is close minded, just doesnt know any better, and in fact because she is so open to change but still doing the right thing throughout that she is the best female character in any book I have read. Fans of Throne of Glass, and Hunger Games will love this book.