Released: October 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover, 471 pages
Genre: YA, Fantasy
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.
Graceling is the first installment in the Graceling Realm trilogy by Kristin Cashore. As I am a high fantasy fan, this story was right up my alley. I like the fact that there were 7 kingdoms, with 7 different rulers. I like the fact that Cashore created a world where people with "Grace" are born with abilities such as mind reading, survival, awareness, and navigation to name just a few. Perhaps a bit of the X-men comparison here. I liked the fact that the author doesn't rush the story.
She takes time and travels to different lands over the course of months, instead of days. Perhaps this might be one of the not so bright spots of the book, since it does take a whole lot of pages where there is little or no action. She also creates a fairly impressive cast of secondary characters, instead of a cast hundreds. I like that while the main heroine finds herself in an unusual friendship with another Graceling named Po, Cashore didn't make it a love at first sight situation that currently infects the YA genre.
Graceling's heroine is 18-year old Lady Katsa. She is niece to King Randa of Middlun, and has been his goon squad, as it were, since she was a small child. Katsa, like others born with "Grace," has one green eye, and one blue. Her grace is fighting, but if you look deeper into what she's capable of, you will understand that there is far more than meets they eye. I really liked her relationships with Oll, Giddon, Bann, Helda, and Prince Raffin. I like that she's fierce, determined, and has set up a Council to help innocents while still carrying out Randa's orders.
I supposed it is now time to talk about the romance angle between Katsa and Prince Greening or Prince Po of the Leinids. Po is graced with combat skills and has one silver and one golden eye. But, like Katsa, there is more to his abilities than just that. Po and Katsa's relationship slowly grows over time. It grows from friendship, to a few mild sex scenes, to perhaps bed buddies who aren't tied down by a silly thing called marriage, or a ring, or out of expectation. Yeah, anyway..... I do like Po. I liked that he brought emotions out of Katsa and makes her think of other avenues. I like that he doesn't come across as arrogant or overbearing. It some way, I also feel for him at the moment because he wants more of their relationship than she's wiling to give.
Complaint time> Like other reviewers I respect, I think the feminism message that apparently needed to be shoved down our throats was overdone and unnecessary. I will say that I am apparently not in the minority on my thoughts on this issue. Apparently, Cashore wants a strong, independent minded heroine who is too busy saving the world to marry, fall in love, or have children. She has Katsa so stuck on her intentions, her council, and her choices, that even when she does find someone who genuinely cares for her, and adores her, she chooses her own pathway without him.
I look around at today's women serving in our military and scream at how feminism is sending the wrong message to our younger generation. Feminism is the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. It is not saying that women who marry, or have children are weak kneed and must rely on men to support them. Women serving in the military are just as strong and capable as men. They fight. They fly jets. They have families. They have husbands and children and still serve with distinction and honor.
So, kindly explain to me what the point of having Katsa fall in love, and then walk away to do her own thing? I am not advocating marriage and children folks. Sometimes being single is the only real path, especially for me apparently. I am saying that just because someone chooses to wear dresses over pants, or has a family, or doesn't, or lives alone doesn't make mean that they don't fight just as hard for women's rights as others do.
I think that perhaps I will skip over the next installment, Red, and go right to Bitterblue who makes her first appearance in Graceling. I like Bitterblue, a whole lot. She's spunky, and loved her connection to Katsa who she travels through a bunch of trials and tribulations. I like how she goes from being a child running away from her evil father, to a stronger, more capable queen that learns how to take care of herself. I do hope that we get more of Katsa, Po, and her Council, and they just don't walk away without knowing what happened from the end of this book, to the beginning of Bitterblue.