October 1, 2012

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

She wouldn't kill, not if she didn't have to. A killing couldn't be undone and she'd killed enough. Mostly for her uncle. King Randa thought her useful. When border ruffians were stirring up trouble, why send an army if you could send a single representative? It was much more economical
-from Graceling by Kristin Cashore

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Let's start this blog off with a bang, shall we? I have read a lot of books this year, but not since I read The Hunger Games Trilogy back in March have I been captivated by characters, themes and an entire world as much as while reading Graceling. Funny enough, I almost did not read this book; I checked it out from the library but the daunting 481 pages made me weary to begin, especially with other lighter reads to occupy my time. However, I am so glad that I invested the time to read what is now one of my favorite books!

Graceling is a fantasy novel where certain individuals (Gracelings) are "graced" with supernatural abilities that set them apart from regular people. A Graceling is distinguishable by two different colored eyes and are often ostracized for being different. Protagonist Katsa, the 18-year old orphaned niece of tyrant King Randa, is graced with the ability to fight, making her more powerful than any stronger or better trained adversary. King Randa takes advantage of his niece's grace by making her his powerful weapon against anyone who crosses him in even the smallest way. Troubled by her uncle's abuse of power, Katsa has created a Council to help bring justice to people in her kingdom and the six surrounding kingdoms so she is able to use her grace for good. During a rescue for the Council to find the kidnapped father of the Lienid King, Katsa meets Prince Po of Lienid, who is also graced and he becomes one of her few dear friends. Together Katsa and Po learn how to develop and control their graces as they embark on a whirlwind journey to uncover the mystery of Po's grandfather's kidnapping.

I don't usually pursue fantasy/adventure, which is funny because most of the books in this genre that I read have easily become my favorites {Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Princess Bride}. I think it has something to do with having to alter my perception of "normal" and the effort it takes to understand the world the author has created. I usually like to read to relax {I spent enough time in college reading books that made me work too hard!}, so putting in this extra effort sometimes seems like it's not worth the pay out {this is exactly why I keep dodging reading Game of Thrones, despite everyone telling me that it's necessary}. Well, let me say that Graceling is well worth the initial effort expended for the story Cashore delivers.

Written for ages 14 and up, the prose is very easy to understand despite the complexities of the world Cashore creates. Despite being a childrens/young adult book, Cashore includes some very mature content including graphic violence and sexual encounters. However, these scenes are where Cashore's writing really shines; her ability to vividly articulate the fights that take place between Katsa, Po and others makes you feel like you are watching a movie. I generally don't care for action books because they can be difficult to follow; this is not the case with Graceling. Similarly and yet conversely, the sexual scenes are so beautifully crafted that they are the furthest thing from inappropriate, even for a 14-year old audience. They aren't nearly as abundant as the fight scenes, but Cashore has a way of using words to outline exactly what she wants you to see and color in exactly how she wants you to feel. 

More impressive than her prose are the characters and themes Cashore develops in Graceling. Katsa can best be described as a typical, emotional 18-year old girl with a passion for justice in an environment that wishes to use her for evil. Initially Katsa is somewhat resigned to her role as a "monster", only fighting for justice in secret. It isn't until she meets Po that he gives her the courage to publicly fight back against evil and the acceptance to explore her grace and tame it for good. The friendship of Katsa and Po presents the theme of depending on other people, namely your friends, for support and positive affirmation. Before Katsa meets Po she is afraid of trusting others for fear they will try to control her similar to King Randa. In beautiful literary symmetry, Katsa also teaches Po to depend on her later in their friendship. 

Graceling addresses the traditional theme of good versus evil; however, it approaches this deeper by  exploring how individuals choose to use their talents for good or evil. By introducing the concept of Gracelings, Cashore invites the reader to pay closer attention to how their graces are used, the effects of their choices magnified. For example, King Randa chooses to use Katsa's grace for evil whereas Katsa chooses to use her grace for good. Katsa is able to make the choice of whether or not she is a monster or not and Cashore does a great job articulating Katsa's experience. There are many other examples of how Gracelings choose to use their graces, but I don't want to spoil the story!

I could honestly continue explicating this novel for days and wish I had read it in college so I would have had the opportunity to write more in depth about the characters and themes {honestly, not all my book reviews will be this long, just the ones I love the most!}. The only thing I can say at this point is go read this book, you won't regret it!! My only complaint is that there are two companion novels which I mistook for sequels, I really wish I could keep reading about the same characters!

Bottom Line: A great action/adventure fantasy with memorable characters and a powerful message. Well-written and exciting to read, I would recommend this book to anyone! If you loved The Hunger Games, I think you will love Graceling

I leave you with what I think should be Katsa and Po's song, Florence and the Machine's Kiss with a Fist ;)

Don't forget to enter my Fun Book Bundle Giveaway over at daniellesque! All you have to do to enter is be a follower of this blog! :)


  1. do I win the record for the most comments on a blog in a 10 minute period :) about game of thrones, I felt the same way. it's worth it. and to be honest I skimmed over a lot of the battle staff and some of the time was a bit confused about what was going on. and I have been in the same finished 5 years of college, lets read fun easy books mode so I didn't make my brain work too hard in game of thrones. the characters are what totally captured me.

    1. I love love love all of your comments!!! Thank you so much for all the support with my new blog! I'm so glad you enjoy reading and I really hope to lead you to some great books! I love that we can both identify with each other being in fun easy books mode after college!

      You've totally encouraged me to read Game of Thrones! I told myself I need to read it and finish by the end of the year and time is running out. I really hope you enjoy Graceling; I thought it was a really inspiring and exciting read!

      Thank you again for all the support!

      xo Danielle

    2. ...I want to buy it for my daughter, age 13, but really I want to buy it to read first! Great fan of fantasy and youth fiction and LOVE a recommendation! Many thanks!


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