jo mo's Reviews > Graceling

Graceling by Kristin Cashore
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Mar 21, 12

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, favourites, series, series-i-ll-continue, 4-stars, young-adult, kick-ass-heroine
Read in July, 2009

Graceling proved a sour note to end on. (..) The novel's premise--it takes place in a fantasy world in which certain individuals, called the graced, are born with innate talents, and Katsa, the teenage heroine, appears to have a grace for killing--has a lot of inherent potential for drama. Katsa was not only born with a fearsome skill (expressed for the first time when she accidentally kills a visiting cousin at the age of eight) but has been exploited for it from a very young age by her uncle, the king, who uses her as his thug and enforcer while hiding behind the rumors he propagates of her cruelty and bloodlust, even as he exerts control over her every choice and movement. Its execution, however, is practically benign, downplaying much of the difficulty and horror of Katsa's situation. The worldbuilding is also much too simplistic, and often casts a shadow on the novel's plot and characters, as allegedly real people are forced to move in cardboard-thin political and social systems. Katsa, for example, has rebelled against her uncle by establishing a network of noblemen and warriors that spans several kingdoms whose purpose is to promote justice and right wrongs, but in practice it operates like a fantasy-world A-Team. Later in the novel, Katsa is stunned by the realization that she can take a lover without marrying him, which she then does with hardly any qualms or consequences, when the very fact that such a possibility had never occurred to her before would seem to suggest that she lives in a society in which extramarital sex is forbidden and punished. There are some nice notes in Graceling--as other reviewers have noted, Katsa is the epitome of the badass female heroine, and her journey over the course of the novel towards independence and self-control makes the perfect counterpoint to her innate skills; her romance with another graceling called Po is a well-sketched portrait of a relationship in which the woman is in almost every way the stronger partner, and there's an engaging sequence near the end of the novel in which Katsa and the young princess she's protecting escape their enemies by traversing an impassible mountain range in the dead of winter--but they don't quite make up for what is, on the whole, a thin and unsatisfying novel. [ asking the wrong questions / abigail nussbaum]
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