Going into Graceling, I had some trepidation because of a few reviews I'd read. They weren't horrible, but they weren't exactly flattering e3.5 stars.
Going into Graceling, I had some trepidation because of a few reviews I'd read. They weren't horrible, but they weren't exactly flattering either. Several times I'd heard the same complaints, mostly about how this book portrays feminism. I thought about giving this one a pass, but recently I was searching through the library's digital catalog and Graceling was about the only book available that was on my list, and only in audiobook format.
Perhaps Graceling is just suited for a full cast audiobook rather than print. I just know that I enjoyed this story far more than I thought I would have. That isn't to asy that the concerns I'd heard before reading weren't valid or worth discussing, so briefly I'll get to a few points.
(view spoiler)[The book excuses Katsa for abusing Po. Well, no, it doesn't exactly. It is clearly put forward, both by Po's reaction and Katsa's immediate and deep remorse, that Katsa's actions (in hitting Po out of anger) were wrong. Nonetheless, I felt that Po forgave her a little bit too easily, though I understood. The thing is, Katsa has been groomed to hurt people, so it's natural to her for that to be a response to anger. Add to that she was expecting Po to defend himself (which he was quite capable of), and you can see why, while not justified, she would react that way. (hide spoiler)]
The message is anti-men. Now, this was an interesting one to me. Misandry is annoying on an individual level, though it doesn't resonate culturally the way misogyny does (but that's another story). While all the bad guys were men, I believe that was a representation problem, as most of the major players (other than Katsa and Bitterblue) were men. And there were far more decent (though flawed) men than there were bad men. This is a story about a society that is very rooted in patriarchy, perhaps even more than our society, so I understand that in order to present a feminist message (which is appears is Cashore's intention) it would be natural for men to be representations of certain sexist attitudes. But...more on the problem of representation in this story later.
Katsa is misogynist in the way she views other women (who wish to marry and have children). Now, while Katsa was a rather irritating protagonist, I never got this from her. She was very set in never getting married and knew her reasons for that. Good for her. She knows what she is willing to do and what she isn't, and for now (and ever?) Po is okay with that. They (she) can do what they want in that sense. But I can't remember Katsa ever looking down at other women with different views of marriage. Helda, Ashen, and Po's mother are all portrayed positively.
While the above notions were not nearly as bad as I feared, I still have issues with calling this a great example of feminist literature. One I touched upon earlier: representation.
I'm not just talking about there being so few major female characters. My problem is that there were virtually no major characters who embodied mostly--or even any--feminine traits. Katsa hated dresses, cut her hair short, could run long distances, had little maternal instinct, and could fight better than men. She's a complete badass heroine. There's nothing wrong with that, but masculinity is dominant in this story.
This is an issue for me because, in my experience, misogyny can occur in two ways (it can occur in a lot of ways, but these are the two I see as being the most prevalent): a woman behaves as what society says a woman should, and as a result, her concerns are seen as trivial and she is pushed aside as an extra in a man's life, her most important roles being the part she plays in the lives of men; a women behaves in the way that society deems appropriate only for a man, and as a result she is chastised and castigated for stepping out of the bounds "God created" for women and she should know her place instead of entering into a man's world.
Graceling addresses the latter, as do many YA titles out there these days, but the former is left untouched for the most part.
Femininity is not seen as desirable in this world. I've addressed the problems facing a "feminine women" above; a feminine man is seen as possibly the worst thing a man could be: a woman. And so the war against femininity is really a war against women. This is why it's one thing to make a heroine step out of gender boundaries, but to address the stigma against those roles takes it to another level. And perhaps this was part of what bothered me about Katsa, why she wasn't nearly as strong as she could have been (though, there were other reasons I didn't really like her much).
Yeah, I know that was a long rant.
I really, really loved the story itself: the setting, the action, the tension and the conflict. This is the primary reason I've rated this so high. Now, I was listening to the audiobook, so I'm probably going to be kind to the writing itself (it's difficult to get a handle on the prose when listening as opposed to reading), but the pacing worked well in moving the story along.
The characters, well, that's something else.
There were some characters I really liked: Oll, Helda, Giddon (even though he turned out to be pretty flawed, though not bad), Raffin. I liked Po most of the time, and at times I was even fond of Katsa.
That said, I found Katsa irritating and in dear need of empathy and compassion (but that would make her more "feminine", so whatever). With Po she improves a bit, but I wish more people would call her out on this. (I think Po does in his own way, but really it is only Giddon who is willing to stand up to her when she drives too hard--and Ror in one instance.)
I didn't like the role Giddon played in the story. I had hope for him, being the one character who dared criticize Katsa, as if that were some horrible thing, and it turns out he (view spoiler)[played the part of "benevolent misogynist." (hide spoiler)](view spoiler)[I was also disappointed he didn't show up at the end with the others. (hide spoiler)]
Bitterblue, I really liked. I didn't find the typical "bratty child" character; I found her refreshing from the way child characters are generally portrayed. Ten-year-olds are often capable of having mature ideas and thoughts and conversations. Too often child characters are treated as props.
In the end, I really enjoyed this one despite my reservations.
**spoiler alert** Interesting enough plot, and Salander was an interesting enough character. The positives end there for me. The prose was laughably b**spoiler alert** Interesting enough plot, and Salander was an interesting enough character. The positives end there for me. The prose was laughably bad, even for a translated book. There were too many plotlines going every which way that never interacted in the story. I felt the disturbing torture-porn was gratuitous and that particular subplot did nothing to advance the story itself, and in my opinion, did very little in the realm of character development. Shock value, perhaps?
Funnily enough, I actually enjoyed the movie (disturbing scenes aside). Take away the bad writing, and the meat of this could be sculpted into a very good story. Nonetheless, this book fell well short.
Without question, Blood Red Road is the best book I have read this year and probably better than any book I read in 2011. The entire time I spent readWithout question, Blood Red Road is the best book I have read this year and probably better than any book I read in 2011. The entire time I spent reading, I never wanted to put it down. I lost a fair bit of sleep over it as well!
The book chronicles Saba, a stubborn 18-year-old fighter on a quest to rescue her kidnapped twin brother, Lugh, who fell into the clutches of the evil Tonton and is in grave danger. Saba is accompanied by her nine-year-old sister Emmi, whom Saba has never forgiven for being responsible for their mother's death in childbirth; the rugged Jack, who makes Saba feel things she hasn't before; and a group of women warriors called the Free Hawks, led by Maev.
Through her journey, Saba and her accomplices endure just about everything you could imagine. One pitfall escaped only leads to another. Cage fighting! Flash floods! Giant worms with claws!
Yeah, I can see where people would have problems with some of this. It seems far too coincidental that Saba somehow manages to survive every time by the skin of her teeth, but I don't even care. If I wanted a story that was somehow realistic, I probably wouldn't read a post-apocalyptic wild-west style adventure novel.
And make no mistake, that is exactly what this is. Each time I put this down, I had to pause for a minute I catch my breath. The action didn't stop. One thing you could never call this book is boring.
The characterization is, in a word, perfect. I don't mean Mary Sue perfect, either. Saba, for one, is one of the strongest heroines I have read about, ranking right up there with Katniss Everdeen. By strong, I don't mean her will or physicality--I mean in terms of character development. Saba is a beautifully crafted protagonist who at times irritated the hell out of me (and she was supposed to!) but was always someone I could cheer for.
Emmi... I must admit I was a little skeptical of having a child character in the main cast. Emmi, however, was not the typical annoying brat younger sibling (if anyone's the brat, it's Saba) and her inclusion was welcome. I hated the way Saba treated her and felt that Emmi, in a lot of ways, was a well-developed heroine in her own right.
As for Jack, well, my reaction to most YA romances is meh. I'm okay as long as it isn't the whole story but generally I'm not a fan of the romance itself. This was an exception. Jack was my favorite character in the book; funny, charming, sexy, cocky...a bit like Han Solo (and if you don't know me, you should know that Han Solo is my first love). I loved his interactions with Saba, I loved the cave scene (and everything that led up to it), and basically I felt more invested in Jack and Saba than I have in any other YA love story I can think of.
The writing style took a few pages to get into, but it definitely fit the characters and story that was being told after a while, I got used to it and it didn't take away from the overall experience (it added to it, if anything).
Overall, there is very, very little fault I can find with this book and it delivered in just about every single area: prose, plot, character, dialogue, setting... I cannot say enough about how much I loved it and I can't wait for the series to continue. Five stars. ...more
This was a fun book. I love the idea of a spy school for girls; it opens up so many different avenues for conflict and tension. The characters are funThis was a fun book. I love the idea of a spy school for girls; it opens up so many different avenues for conflict and tension. The characters are fun and, with the exceptions of being spy-prodigies, believable. I love how it's a bit of a fantasy setting that broadens the boundaries for what type of story can be told here.
That said, the book ultimately fell short of testing those boundaries. I felt the overall plot and theme was too shallow, which is okay, but there were obviously some heavy themes in the story that were hard to develop fully because of the shallow tone. There was very little in terms of conflict, which I felt strange for a story about a teenage spy.
I didn't really think that the spy element was utilized the way it could have been. I feel there was so much that could have been explored there. I, personally, would have preferred it if the romance was a subplot while the spy element was the main focus. I wanted more adventure. I liked that Cammie showed a bit more maturity toward the end, and the tone got a little darker, but it felt lacking for me. It's like the story wants to have those mature, heavy elements but also wants to keep the shallow comedic tone, and I don't think it's particularly working....more