The YA fantasy Graceling is Kristin Cashore’s debut novel. Her second novel Fire, a loosely connected prequel set 35 years prior to Graceling, came out last year. Cashore does recommend reading Graceling first to avoid spoiling part of it, and even though I read these two books in reverse order, I can understand why since it would have taken me a lot longer to guess what was coming if I had not read Fire first. Currently, Cashore is working on a sequel to Graceling called Bitterblue, which takes place about six years after the end of it.
Sixteen-year-old Katsa’s two different colored eyes mark her as one of the Graced, people with a specific super-human ability. Some people may be Graced with storytelling, mind reading, or dancing, but each person’s ability is at least somewhat unique. When Katsa was eight years old, she hit a man who seemed a little too interested in her – with enough strength to kill him. Ever since then, her uncle the king has found his Graced killer useful for keeping his subjects in line and calls on her to threaten those who aren’t behaving as he’d like.
Katsa hates her uncle and the jobs he makes her do, and she formed the Council in order to do some good. Together she and her friends in the Council set out to rescue an old man, the father of the Lienid king, who has been kidnapped by one of the other kings for an unknown reason. While there, she meets a Graced fighter but lets him live in spite of her better judgment. Soon the two become friends and work on discovering the motives behind the disappearance of the old Lienid.
After reading Fire and loving it enough to include it in my favorite books read in 2009, I of course had to read Graceling. I was a little worried I’d end up disappointed with it, mainly because I had heard Fire was an improvement over the first book. Fire is in my opinion the stronger of the two books – it’s more polished and better paced, plus I loved Fire more than Katsa as a protagonist. Yet Graceling was still very good with several of the elements that made me enjoy Fire so much – it was very readable and hard to put down once it got going, it had a great female lead with some complex problems, it contained some other wonderful characters, and it was not a perfectly happy story where everything works out 100% perfectly for everyone.
It’s probably no surprise that the highlight of this book for me was the characters. Katsa is very hot-tempered and often angry, particularly since she despises her role as her uncle’s torturer but feels like she has no choice but to obey the king. It is fun to see her grow throughout this novel, and the people in her life who help her along the way are such endearing characters – her cousin Raffin and Po. There is a bit of a love story and I think Cashore writes romances very well. Katsa is not a brooding, angsty woman who thinks of nothing but getting married and having children (quite the opposite since she is quite vocal about her desire to do neither). Falling in love is not in her plans, but it happens in spite of herself and even when it does it never makes her lose sight of her goals.
The way the story unfolded was also very well done. Part of it I knew about due to reading Fire first, but I really enjoyed the extra complexity that was revealed about the Graces. Katsa and Po’s Graces were not as straightforward or simple as initially portrayed and learning more about them and what it meant for both characters was enjoyable, if somewhat too convenient at times.
Graceling is another lovely book by Kristin Cashore with a strong, complex female lead. Between this novel and Fire, it’s guaranteed I will pick up anything written by this talented new author.
Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.
- The Book Smugglers
- Fantasy Book Critic
- Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review
- OF Blog of the Fallen
- The Wertzone
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