Graceling by Kristin Cashore│Review

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Release Date: 01/10/2008
Age: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
ISBN: 9781473233256
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co 
Number of pages: 400

Graceling tells the story of the vulnerable-yet-strong Katsa, who is smart and beautiful and lives in the Seven Kingdoms where selected people are born with a Grace, a special talent that can be anything at all. Katsa’s Grace is killing. As the king’s niece, she is forced to use her extreme skills as his brutal enforcer. Until the day she meets Prince Po, who is Graced with combat skills, and Katsa’s life begins 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.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars│6.93/10 CAWPILE

Characters: 7
Atmosphere: 7
Writing: 6
Plot: 7
Intrigue: 7
Logic: 7
Enjoyment: 7.5

I thought it was finally time I read this well loved book! Especially with the release of a new book in the series … and because Fairyloot will be selling a special edition set 👀.
Graceling is the first book in a four book series, Graceling realm, where each book features a different protagonist.

Going into this I had very high expectations. While I don’t see the books around as much, I remember there being significant hype surrounding this series a few years back; the book has certainly won a number of awards. Overall, I have to say I enjoyed the book and it was certainly unique, especially considering the date it was published. Refreshing was the word that kept coming back to me when thinking of the book. However, do I think it lived up to the hype? I have to admit it fell a bit short for me. Nonetheless I read it relatively quickly, and I think it was always going to be difficult for it to live up to the hype.

When a monster stopped behaving like a monster, did it stop being a monster? Did it become something else?

What I enjoyed:

As I said this book just felt refreshing. Katsa, the main protagonist, whilst living up to certain YA tropes, is strong willed and unapologetic. Strong, but flawed, Cashore managed to create a character that was ‘not like anyone else’, but in a way I haven’t read in any other YA book. Katsa never needs saving and has strong confidence in her skill. Her character arc was satisfying and she grew and gained confidence during the book.
The overall plot and pacing are great. I am always drawn in by female assassin/rescuer/fugitive story arcs so in that sense I suppose it was easy to please me. Although, due to the popularity of these tropes it can be difficult for a story to stand out – certain aspects of this book definitely stood out to me. Don’t get me wrong there are several tropes and aspects of this book I’ve read somewhere before, but I think in combination with the unique writing style some scenes felt distinctive. Plus, sometimes you want to read something of a specific feel and plot, and if you want a classic YA female assassin story with high stakes and a dash a romance this is the book for you.
Another feature of this story that set it apart was the discussions around marriage. I did have a few problems with the romance and the portrayal of partnerships, but while I don’t necessarily agree with the portrayal I can’t deny that not many YA fantasy books discuss this topic. In the same vein this book had a strong feminist streak.

How absurd it was that in all seven kingdoms, the weakest and most vulnerable of people – girls, women – went unarmed and were taught nothing of fighting, while the strong were trained to the highest reaches of their skill.

What I disliked:

A major problem for me was the writing style: this book is written in quite an abrupt style. In the first few chapters I did’t mind but I found it clunky further in. The sentence structures are convoluted, and there are far too many semicolons used. It by no means prevented me from finishing the book, but it did render the characters a bit unfeeling.
Moving on to the characters, again I didn’t find any of the characters unbearable, but they definitely could have been developed and improved. I don’t know if I just didn’t enjoy Katsa’s character but she came across as callus and unlikable at times. Everything she thought tended to be a bit robotic, and this made it very hard to sympathise with her. Overall the characters lacked a level of depth; many side characters were merely filling a role and had no impact on me as a reader. Whether this would have been less of a problem for me if I had read this when I was younger I’m not sure. Due to this the romance felt a bit forced, coming across more as infatuation than anything else. I did’t feel there was particularly a strong connection between Po (my favourite character) and Katsa. The book could have used more in depth scenes between them to make the relationship more organic.
The feminist undertones also came across as narrow minded. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all here for strong female characters, which Katsa was, but it felt a bit one-dimensional in the depiction of ‘strength’. Katsa’s independence and strength, as both a woman and an individual, comes from her physical abilities and determination (excluding her ‘beautiful eyes’ which I won’t go into). Other forms of feminism felt undermined or devalued. Feminism does not have to be exclusively physical strength and deviation from the ‘traditional’. Where this stood out was the very negative views on marriage. Again, marriage is not essential and in this sense I do think the book carried a good message, but marriage is also not an overtly negative thing. I guess I just didn’t think it had to be as rigid as it came across.

Overall thoughts:

This was an enjoyable and fast paced read. While not perfect, and with several aspects that I either felt meh about or disliked, other parts were great. This was simultaneously refreshing and a comforting familiar read, diving into the popular assassin trope. If you enjoy these types of stories, especially with romance, I would definitely give it a go. Similarly, if you dislike overly flowery language I think you will really gel with Cashore’s writing style.
Also can we appreciate the new covers, I think they are stunning! (Designed by Micaela Alcaino)

He raised his eyes to her again. ‘I’ll give myself to you however you’ll take me,’ he said.

Other books to read if you enjoyed Graceling:

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Poison Study by Maria V. Schnyder

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Master of Crows by Grace Draven

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