The Heroine…

Title: Graceling

Author: Kristin Cashore

Genre: fantasy

Pages: 471

Days to read it: 5

Synopsis: Working for the power-hungry King Randa, Katsa is graced with agility and endurance, qualities that make her a veritable killing machine under her greedy uncle’s rule. From young, she knew to be disgusted with her own image as a bringer of pain and death, yet in her heart, she thrived and thrilled in the pure joy of motion, in her awareness of each kicking spin or precise step,  of her boundless energy and skill of weapon-wielding. On secret missions unknown to her King, Katsa and her companions travel across the lands, helping victims of greedy kings, doing her best to atone, through covert actions, for the crimes she had committed under the King’s orders. As Katsa and her companions discover more about a deep-rooted corruption among the Kings of the lands, Katsa slowly redefines herself and her Grace using the instincts of her own heart.

Impressions: First off, one thing that has been bugging me. A person with a Grace has very heightened talents, whether it’s storytelling, archery, cooking or mind-reading. Along with the Grace, Gracelings have two different coloured eyes. Now, here come a whole slew of questions from me: Why are people gifted with Graces? Is it random? A gift from the gods? Is it a direct heritage from a bloodline? Why does it come with two different coloured eyes? Has there ever been a Graceling vs. Normal People war (wouldn’t the Gracelings have a higher chance of winning since they’re pretty much superhuman?)? One thing that I so wanted to know about but never got enough satisfactory answers for was information about Graces in general. I felt that there wasn’t enough background about the idea of Graces in the story. I know that I’ve definitely been satisfied with stories with less information about things like this, but in this case, I really really wanted to know more! I was just so curious about Graces and Gracelings – My thoughts kept straying to thinking about them in general and all the potential stories about them (why do some people have stronger/more heightened graces than others?) instead of focussing on the actual storyline.

One other thing (I’m being crusty so go ahead and throw e-stones at me) that has been bothering me about the story: I love my headstrong, intelligent, beautiful, skilled yet insecure and lonely heroines, I know I do. But something about Katsa didn’t make me like her as much as some of the other heroines I’ve read. Maybe it’s because her strength and beauty are so obviously stated that I wanted to do a little eye rolling thing (Wildcat as a nickname? Wildcat?). It’s not to say I didn’t like her at all. I was just surprised I wouldn’t like her more. After all, isn’t she the girl we all want to read about? That we all want to connect with? Why is it that I wasn’t able to connect with her as much as say, Garth Nix’s Lirael, or Juliet Marillier’s Fainne? I think I may know why. I’m tired of reading the same sort of descriptions. The ol’ chin lifted up in defiance equals “I am tough”. Or the “Why the heck does this person like me? Surely it can’t be because of my haunting beauty – who would like a person with two different coloured eyes? (Nevermind that they’re stunning)”.   Maybe it’s just part of where I stand in the reader’s spectrum. After all, I was never crazy about the Tamora Pierce books, and wasn’t she a similarly tough, kick-butt heroine?

I think halfway through the book, I started to like her a little more, probably because her relationship with Po (does anyone else associate this name with a certain children’s television program?) is so touching and sweet, and a moment where we see her opening up to another. And her growing relationship with Bitterblue (why was she named that? She’s bitter and blue? I guess that makes sense…) was very poignant.  During these scenes, the description of Katsa was less clichéd and more natural.  I usually don’t mind clichés. I’ve seen authors use clichés in such a unique way that they reinvent that cliché. I’m thinking of Neil Gaiman in particular, who likes to poke fun at chichés by using them and turning them around.

Another scene that I enjoyed was the scene where she finds out another possible interpretation of her Grace, and then has to put it to the test so soon afterwards. The writing there was riveting. I guess I like my survival stories. I like how the focus of the story seems so narrowed down to Katsa and her will to survive, and her need to believe in her Grace.

I think Kristin Cashore has a unique writing style. Kind of like how Megan Whalen Turner has that distinct way of describing things that’s subtle and low-key (almost) and yet compacts tons of emotion. Like a painting or a poem can be. The only thing was the plotline…well, aside from inventing the idea of Graces as a gimmick to attract readers, the fantasy world wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. I pretty much figured out what was going to happen in terms of the storyline. But, I don’t think Kristin Cashore meant to focus on the storyline so much as the character development? But then again, there was so much left unsaid about King Leck. Why the heck was he so evil?

A question for you: Has there ever been a time when you want to read about a tough, intelligent, beautiful heroine, yet you find that instead of totally connecting with her, you are irritated and annoyed by her? I’m thinking of some other books that I read a while ago, where I had that feeling. I think the heroines I remember and like, tend to be slightly eccentric. They aren’t necessarily admirable in the usual way. Instead, there’s something quirky about them that makes me feel like the author really knows how to make you like a character despite their apparent ditsy-ness (Claidi from Claidi Journals) or remoteness (Lirael from Lirael) or plain grumpiness (Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle).

Excerpt: I keep coming across and noticing allusions to Shakespeare’s “green-eyed monster”. I like this passage.  All that angsty emotion and confusion about how she sees herself. You really feel it.

“Katsa picked up her knife and fork, cut into her mutton, and thought about that. She knew her nature. She would recognize it if she came face-to-face with it. It would be a blue-eyed, green-eyed monster, wolflike and snarling. A vicious beast that struck out at friends in uncontrollable anger, a killer that offered itself as the vessel of the king’s fury.

But then, it was a strange monster, for beneath its exterior it was frightened and sickened by its own violence. It chastised itself for its savagery. And sometimes it had no heart for violence and rebelled against it utterly.

A monster that refused, sometimes, to behave like a monster. When a monster stopped behaving like a monster, did it stop being a monster? Did it become something else?

Perhaps she wouldn’t recognize her own nature after all.”

Other reviews:

* I got this idea (add little excerpts from other people’s reviews) from Darla D. at Books & Other thoughts *

– Darla D. from Books & Other thoughts: “The fantasy world is a fairly generic one, but the intriguing magic, well-developed characters and the taut pacing combine in a skillfully told story that turned out to be one of my favorite books of 2008.”

– Angie from Angieville: “If you are a fan of Tamora Pierce or Robin McKinley, this one is pretty much a guaranteed home run”

– Graeme from Graeme’s Fantasy: “‘Graceling’ is a strange mixture of things that I just cannot stand about fantasy whilst, at the same time, being another one of those books where (despite myself) I seem to find myself turning the pages and genuinely wanting to know how it ends…”

– Kailana from The Written World: “The best way to sum everything up is to simply say that I loved this book! I essentially read it in one day, so you know that it caught my attention!”

– Lu from Regular Rumination: “96% – Well-crafted and meaningful, a fully engaging fantasy novel. Highly recommended.”

– Michelle from See Michelle Read: “Graceling is an adventure story, a fantasy, a mystery, a political suspense, a romance — it has it all and doesn’t stop for a second”

– Enna Isilee from Squeaky Books: “This book was a delightful fantasy. I found it completely original and fascinating.”

– Thea from The Book Smugglers: “I truly enjoyed reading Graceling for its intriguing premise, its strong characters, and its highly engaging plot. Highly recommended for readers of all ages”

– NotNessie from Today’s Adventure: “A fast paced adventure with a sweet romantic core. Fantastic if you like romance, adventure, fantasy, or just a generally good story. Don’t start this book unless you have several free hours, because you won’t want to put it down.”

Rating: 4/5 days of survival in the wildlands

Extras:

I guess it’s kind of late to put this up, but I do enjoy watching Book Trailers (now that I’ve discovered they actually exist!) Here’s a fan trailer.

I didn’t like the other trailer. Click and you might see why…

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11 comments

  1. I’ve seen some really sparkling reviews of this book, and some like yours that seemed to think we’ve all read this story before. I’m leaning towards not reading it right now – shame, because I like the cover, and the idea.

  2. I completely agree! I really enjoyed the book, but didn’t connect with Katsa’s character quite as much as heroines in other books. In fact I found Po and Raffin far more interesting. I did enjoy it more than some of the other fantasy that I have come across recently though, and I really like Cashore’s style of writing. I’ll get a review up soon. Thanks!

  3. Thank you for the fabulous link! I think I’m going to start a new system, where I write a review, rate a book and then a month later, give it a new number and average the two. I think if I really sat down and thought about it, I wouldn’t rate Graceling so high. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still rate it high (higher than a lot of books), but it would probably be closer to the 89-92 range.

    I never really wanted to understand where the graces come from. To me it was just something that happened, like the way people are better at piano than some people. It really just seemed like talent to the extreme. I guess I just thought of it as simple genetics. A random mutation and then both parents had to carry the gene for you to get it. They didn’t say anything about Graced parents having Graced children, though, so my theory is flawed. And also shows how big of a dork I am.

    I actually really liked Katsa for most of the book and felt that her alienation of the reader, to a certain extent, was because she was so used to alienating everyone in her life. She didn’t have the luxury of connecting with people because they all judged her (except for her few friends). So I just thought that I didn’t like her as much as I should, at the beginning, because she wouldn’t let me. And then it all melted, one hundred percent, when she and Po were together. I love Po. Love.

    In any case, very thoughtful review and thank you for the link!!

  4. Yes, I’ve found that I have trouble with connecting with heroines like that. Nearly whenever I write, whether it be a short story or something longer, I find myself writing about the “perfect” heroine: Tough, persistent, intelligent, spunky, beautiful…From my own reading experience, readers can better identify with characters that have flaws and problems.

  5. I definitely like quirky better than beautiful, intelligent and tough. Though to be honest I don’t mind either as long as they feel like real people – complex enough to exist. I haven’t read this yet, so I can’t comment on Katsa.

  6. there are book trailers now? I didn’t know that!

    Good in-depth review. But it sounds like you didn’t enjoy it too much, and I have a feeling it won’t be a great read for me too…

  7. Thanks for the link, and I loved reading your excerpts! I got the idea from the Well-Read Child blog, so I really can’t take credit. 🙂

    I loved this book, and I did connect with Katsa. I felt that she was a bit prickly in the beginning, and a bit slow to see her self-worth after being made to feel like she was worthless, a tool, a thug for so many years. For me it was the characters here, and the connections with each other, that made the story so compelling. I’m sorry it didn’t work quite as well for you. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the book!

  8. Bookjourney – I have to admit, that was one of the reasons why I wanted the book so much. The front cover is gorgeous and dramatic!
    Jenny – I liked the idea of it, too! I actually hadn’t read any on-the-negative-side reviews of this book until after I finished reading it, and did some more thorough review searching.
    Mariel Oh cool! I can’t wait to read your review of it, too! I like Raffin and Bitterblue. Po wasn’t my all time favorite male lead, he was decently charming though, I must admit. It’s totally true that out of the recent fantasy novels that have come out, this one was quite enjoyable!
    Lu – LOL I’m a geek too. The fact that I thought about how such a mutation could occur…. how it linked to their eye color. Yup. It’s totally true, people were either very judgemental or plain scared of her, hence her self-estrangement of sorts from others!
    Allegra – So true! A character seems more real when their flaws are there. Katsa has her flaws, but for some reason, I didn’t fully believe them, that’s my only qualm about her!
    Nymeth – I agree! In the big scheme of my reading experiences, it actually doesn’t really matter, as long as the whole story works out. Read the book if you ever run into it and see if you like it!
    Nishita – Cool, right? I totally didn’t know there were book trailers until recently when I stopped by someone else’s blog and they had a whole bunch of them uploaded on youtube. I didn’t love the book with absolute hearts but it was still, overall, an enjoyable read. You should totally give it a try if you ever get your hands on it!
    Carla – Haha we always seem to mooch ideas off of one another, there must be a huge chain of “borrowing” in the blog community. I actually started liking Katsa more when she was with Po and Bitterblue. In the beginning, I was neutral with her, not really drawn into her character. But, after the episode in the mountains, where she had to survive with Bitterblue, she sort of grew on me!

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