Graceling. I’d heard this title being bandied about by Pajibans whose taste I admire for some time now. Finally I remembered to request it from my library. Good call, ‘Jibans. I knew I trusted You People for a reason.
Graceling is a young adult fantasy novel set in a world of seven kingdoms. Some people within this world are born with “Graces” —an extraordinary, innate skill of one sort or another. In the kingdom of Middluns, when the existence of a Grace becomes apparent, the Graceling is immediately surrendered to the King’s service. Middluns residents fear and shun those with Graces. Families anxiously monitor children, hoping they will remain unGraced.
The protagonist and titular Graceling, Katsa, is niece to the sly and selfish King Randa of Middluns. UnGraced, Katsa would have lived the privileged life of a royal lady; instead as one Graced with a super-human ability to kill, she is pressed into service as King Randa’s enforcer. As such, Katsa is even more feared and alienated than the “typical” Graceling. Katsa loathes her duties and tries to offset the cruelty and fear that Randa orders her to spread by forming the Council, a secret group dedicated to righting injustice. We meet Katsa as she is performing a Council task: rescuing the aged Prince Tealiff of Lienid from the dungeon of a neighboring King. As makes her escape, Katsa is briefly detained by another Graceling, this one a Lienid by birth and a fighter by Grace. Katsa soon learns that this stranger was Prince Po, Tealiff’s grandson and the youngest son of the king. Po earns Katsa’s trust and the two team up to discover the true culprit behind Tealiff’s kidnapping. It is fairly apparent (at least to the seasoned romance novel reader) that he will eventually also win her heart.
While the search for the kidnapper takes Po and Katsa across most of the seven kingdoms, the real journey is Katsa’s growth from lonely, mistrustful tool of another’s bidding into one who comprehends the nature of her gift and of love—not simply romantic love, but familial and even a quasi-maternal love as well. Cashore has created an amazing world with easily-believed characters. Katsa’s motivations are clearly communicated throughout and her personal growth feels organic. I was impressed that Cashore kept me deeply involved in the story even as Katsa’s battles reached “Kill Bill” levels of incredible .
This story also works on another level for young adult readers. Alienation, loneliness, a feeling of being either special (on a good day) or downright freakish (on most other days) are feelings that I very much remember from my own adolescence. Katsa’s resentful awareness of the bitter unfairness of the distribution of power and determination to undermine Randa’s petty cruelty (and to later overthrow the true villain’s deeper, more chilling evil) are also themes that resonate strongly with my memories of becoming aware of the fact that Things! Just! Aren’t! Fair! (Cue door slam and bitter, angst-flavored tears.)
I would happily hand Graceling to either of my daughters when they’re at the appropriate age to read it. That said, parental heads-up: there is some (not overly explicit) sexual activity as well as inferences—some more subtle than others—that women and children weaker than Katsa (so…all of them) face the risk of abuse. There is also a lot of violence… which should surprise no one, given the title character’s job as the king’s thug, albeit a reluctant one. As such, I wouldn’t want my eight year old to read it, but I’d be happy to recommend it when she’s a bit older and more prepared to comprehend and process these topics.
Overall, going by the CBR star rating system (below) I’d have to give this 3 stars. I definitely liked Graceling. Very much, in fact! But I don’t know if there was enough within the book that elevates it to great, much less a favorite. It did not affect me the way, say, Hunger Games did. Nor was it incredibly different from anything I’d ever read, like Daughter of Smoke and Bones. But it was an engrossing read and I am very pleased to have started my very first CBR with such an enjoyable book.
- 1 star – a book you didn’t like
- 2 stars – an ok book
- 3 stars – a good book
- 4 stars – a great book
- 5 stars – a favorite