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Book Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

A number of folks on the writing site that I frequent (Absolute Write - it rocks) mentioned Graceling as a favorite book of theirs, so I high-tailed it to the bookstore to get my own hands on a copy and see what the fuss is all about.

Graceling is the debut novel from Kristin Cashore and tells the tale of Katsa, a young woman “graced,” or gifted, with a special power. She has been brought up under the wing of King Randa, as it is the right of the kings to use those gifted with graces as they see fit. For Katsa, however, her grace is a dilemma. She likes the power it gives her but worries that she may not be able to control it in the long run.

Enter Po, a graced young man from another kingdom. He’s on the search for his kidnapped grandfather and is led to the court of King Randa where he strikes up a friendship with Katsa. Things start to fall apart, however, when Katsa learns that Po is lying about what his true grace is. They reconcile and Katsa makes the decision to leave the abuses of King Randa’s court forever.

Cashore’s writing style is sparse and well-paced and she doesn’t make the classic fantasy mistake of excessive back story and world building. Her characters are flawed and realistic (with Katsa often sinking into flat-out whiny early on) and their trials are great. I enjoyed the storytelling and the concept of the novel.

But I do have two things to nit-pick (sorry!).

First, when it is revealed that Katsa’s true grace is, indeed, not what she had thought it was all along, a surge of questions overwhelmed me. I won’t reveal her true grace in this review, but I will say that there are a number of things that don’t mesh with her true grace. For example: Food and sleep. They don’t come naturally to Katsa; she must force herself to eat and tell her body to sleep. But, honestly, with her grace, wouldn’t her body be more powerful than her mind? Wouldn’t it simply fall asleep whenever and wherever it needed to? And wouldn’t it force her to eat as much as possible – to the point of making sure she had an extra layer of fat on her? Honestly, the sloppy explanations really took something away from the story for me.

Second, once Katsa and Po’s relationship expands (you guessed that would happen all along, right?) the reader is subjected to page after page of Katsa’s need to explain to this person and that person and this tree and that rock that she has no interest in marriage and babies. Truly, these explanations take up too much of the book. Really, we get it. Move along. The reader even has to skim through several passages detailing Katsa’s reasoning for why she should or should not have sex with Po. Ugh. Do it already, K? We get that Katsa’s a strong female character and we don’t think less of her for succumbing to the temptation. Really. Promise.

Despite these two things, Graceling is a fun tale in the classic fantasy tradition and a must read for anyone who wants to be on top of what’s hot on YA right now.

Star Rating: ***
Sadly, our foreign correspondents have had a difficult time getting a copy of Graceling, so I don't have five questions for the peanut gallery. Instead, I'll ask our readers to give me their thoughts about Graceling. What are your opinions about the book?
Kristin Halbrook

Kristin Halbrook is the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novels Nobody But Us (HarperTeen, 2013) and Every Last Promise (HarperTeen, 2015). She likes many things.

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  1. *sob* Can't...get...books...

    Funny about the anti-marriage/kiddos thing. Overly feminist characters are about as annoying as the doormat gals.

    Great review, Kristin!

  2. great review of a kristin from a kristin :)

    I loved ass-kickingly awesome Katsa, and I'm all for not compromising yourself, but I have to agree that the anti-marriage thing began to grate. It's a tough nit to pick, especially since I consider myself a feminist (the type, not the jessie spano caricature). Graceling was like... the anti-Twilight. lol

    But I loved Cashore's writing and I though Po was totally hot; I will definitely follow her next book and next.

  3. I'm with you, Michelle...When I go home to visit, I'm bringing an extra suitcase for all the books I plan on purchasing. Shipping and handling is getting to me /sigh.
    I'm glad to see a book with a kickbutt girl MC. I usually can't make it through a book if the character is a doormat type. not jessie span=hysterical

  4. This is so on my need to read list!

    Thanks for the review, which only makes me want to read it even more (despite its flaws).

  5. Honestly, the flaws were minor, but they were little buzzes that wouldn't leave my head over the days after I had finished reading.

    I absolutely am a feminist (hey, I got my Women's Studies degree at one of the most liberal Universities in the U.S.). But, like you said Kirsten, there's more than one kind of feminist.

    I liked Po, as well. He was super cute in my mind :). And I also will be following Cashore's writing in the future.

  6. Yay! I finally got to read this and I gotta tell on review. Overall, really good read, but I had the same hang-ups as you. I also found myself losing interest once Po and Katsa's relationship was established. But was definitely worth reading!

  7. I thought Graceling was a hybridized princess story. Sure, she says she doesn't want to get married, but pretty soon she's swimming in the prince's eyes, and he's setting her up as a princess. The prince "saves" her by helping her find her true self which is happens to be significantly more feminine than before they met. She still kicks butt, and she saves the prince and kicks his butt, and there's a thing to be said about balance but this is at the core a traditional love story with fighting.


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Item Reviewed: Book Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Halbrook