Monday, January 18, 2010

Review: Graceling

Title:  Graceling

Author:  Kristin Cashore

Plot Summary:
At a young age, Katsa's eyes changed colors- one to blue, one to green- and marked her out as GracedThe Graced are people with special, enhanced abilities to do certain things.  Katsa's was to kill people; her Grace first showed itself when she slammed the nose of a man into his face and killed him.  Since then, she's been the royal thug to her uncle the king, traipsing around his kingdom threatening people and breaking bones or doling punishment until they comply.  She also runs a secret underground resistance network, The Council, through which she helps people fight the corrupt governments of her world.
On one mission, she meets Prince Po, a foreigner who is Graced with fighting skills and who has an uncanny knack of knowing her thoughts.  They become friends, and then set off together on a quest, ostensibly to save his grandfather, but really to fight a corrupt king and save a young, innocent girl who will be queen.

I know I'm one of the last to this party, so I wasn't even sure I should review this book.  But I review every book I read, so here we go!

I think for me, this book was probably a victim of its own success and my expectations.  I really liked it.  It held my attention throughout, its characters were engaging, and I enjoyed the fantasy world it presented to me.  But it just wasn't as good as I expected it to be.  People rave about this book!  It is on countless "Best of 2009" lists and I have seen so many reviews praising it to the skies.  And it's unfair of me to expect more from a book just because I've heard it's good.  But, I must admit, I expected this to blow me completely out of the water.  And it didn't.

It's a fairly typical epic fantasy novel, with a hero (or in this case, a heroine) setting off on a quest, through dangerous terrain and surrounded by people she can't trust.  It's also a very believable and quiet romance.  I have a niggling feeling that if I had read the book without any expectations, I'd like it a lot more.  But I went in with a vague idea of Graceling having a huge, shattering impact on me and it did not deliver that.

What it did deliver was a very solid female lead.  I could see Katsa becoming a Mary Sue if this series were to continue (but thankfully, the other book in this series is a prequel revolving around a different character entirely), but in this story I found her easy to empathize with.  She is a woman who knows herself, who is confident in her abilities and who doesn't suffer fools.  She is more afraid of losing her self-reliance than she is of anything else.  And when people treat her like a dainty little thing, she gets angry, but often her thought process behind the anger is lucid and makes sense.  I appreciate that.  And even though she wasn't a lead character, the Princess Bitterblue was also a very convincingly real and respectable female.  I am thrilled that there were no women in this book, actually, that annoyed me.  All of them had common sense and good heads on strong shoulders, and I loved it.

I also liked the male characters.  Prince Po was three-dimensional and had a wonderfully vulnerable side.

I guess in that way, I'm not sure why this one just didn't grab me the way I expected.  It was an excellent story with great characters, but I didn't think the world was as fully developed and fleshed out as it could have been.  I am a sucker for hearing about history and religion and the like in fantasy novels (especially in epic fantasy) and this book didn't have any of that.  It was set firmly in the present and we aren't given much in the way of filling in the blanks.  I would have enjoyed a deeper understanding of the world in which the story was set.

That said, though, I think this is a great book!  It is a quick and engaging read with strong, likable characters, and I'm glad I finally read it!  I hope that Fire is even better!


  1. I've got this on my To be read pile but I've been avoiding it. I think I'm afraid of being disappointed. I've been checking out lots of YA recently because I loved the Hunger Games but nothing has compared to that so far.

  2. Yes you fell into that same hole I fell into, I expected fireworks and sitting there in awe. When it left me with ok I was so disappointed and I did not get why everyone raved about it. Good enough story but no fireworks for me.

    And yes it could have had some better world building, I am with you and need that.

  3. I still haven't read this one either, although I bought it ages ago. I remember hearing mixed views on it, some people really did rave about it and others were luke warm.

  4. I felt this same way about The Hunger Games when I finally read it - it was enjoyable and fun and I liked the characters and the plot, but it didn't thrill me the way it seemed to do everybody else. I'll still probably read Graceling, but I might wait a bit longer for the hype to die down.

  5. I am always scared of reading books that are hyped. Worried if it doesn't meet its high expectations. I have this on my TBR, and am yet to get to it.

  6. You're not the last one to the party as I haven't even decided if I want to read it. I hear it's so good, but it's not the sort of book I like normally so I don't know if I could get into it.

  7. I've been vacillating about whether or not I want to pick this one up, I don't read a lot of fantasy novels, although I have enjoyed the few that I've read. It was nice to hear your thoughts on this one, it may end up on my TBR list after all.

  8. Mrs. B- I still have to read Hunger Games at some point!

    Blodeuedd- Yes, I remember your review. I think that spurred me to pick it up for myself. Hopefully Fire is better for me! Haven't seen as many reviews of that one, though it seems to generally be thought better.

    Vivienne- Let me know if you read it!

    Jenny- I think waiting might be a good idea! Though I thought I waited some time and still didn't see it...

    Aths- I'm also usually wary. It can't be helped, though, I guess, with so many people reading the same books.

    Amanda- I'm a firm believer that people read the right books at the right time. If now is not the time you feel like reading it (or ever), then I always think it's best to read what is grabbing you instead.

    Bored- I think this is a good starter for fantasy. The elements aren't SO big in there to overwhelm, and the story is straight-forward and entertaining.

  9. I just read Graceling the other day. I've kind of been avoiding reviews about it so I don't have such high expectations. I think I enjoyed it because the feminist message in it really spoke to me (i.e. you don't need a man to protect you, blah blah blah). I hope you do find Fire to be a better experience for you! Also, I love worldbuilding, but I think sometimes authors don't go about it in a way I enjoy or spend too long on it, so for me I sort of like that we were just tossed into the world of Graceling.

    To each their own :-)

  10. Anonymous1/18/2010

    I really enjoyed this book because it was a real surprise for me. I didn't expect to like it so much. For me the characters stood out more than the world (and I particularly liked the idea of the graces), but I'm looking forward to her next book.

  11. I started it but could not get into it, but that's because I am not used to this genre. Then it had to go back to the library. I plan on trying again. I just get confused with trying to understand the world in fantasy books.

  12. I haven't jumped on the bandwagon for this one simply because I don't know if it could live up to its hype at this point. I'm sure I'll get 'round to it at some point, but probably behind everyone else in the blogosphere (as usual). lol

  13. I really want to read this book, but I think my overall opinion would probably be the same as yours. I have heard such great things about it and I think my expectations might be a little too high. I am glad that you found the female protagonist to be well rounded and believable though. It's odd that there was not a lot of world building in the book, it seems like that is standard for good fantasy. I will be interested in hearing what you think of Fire when you read it!

  14. Sadly, high expectations really can do that :\ I think that's the reason why I've been putting off getting it...I might be better off forgetting just how much I want to read it first, by the sound of it.

  15. That's the trouble with literary hype. :-) This does sound like a good book -- I'd like to read it with my son sometime.

  16. I just read "The Hunger Games" after seeing so many bloggers rave about it and had a similar reaction to it as you did to this book -- I really liked it but somehow thought it would be MORE. That happens sometimes when you hear so much about a book. I am curious to read this one though ... but I'll keep my expectations in check. Good review.

  17. I think Fire was slightly better, but I LOVED Graceling. I also find it hard to review a book that has been soooo big in the blogs :)

  18. April- I saw your review and you seem to have really enjoyed it! World building is different for each person, I guess :-)

    chasingbawa- I am looking forward to reading Fire, too. I enjoyed this book but not as much as I hoped.

    bookmagic- I think you should just keep going and power through whatever confuses you. It tends to make sense later on.

    Andi- I know that feeling of being behind ;-)

    Zibilee- I really appreciated the strong female, too!

    Nymeth & Stephanie- I agree! Better to wait until the hype dies down.

    Jenners- Well, now I MUST wait for Hunger Games! Don't want to be sad by that book!

    Tara- I am looking forward to Fire!

  19. I am glad I read this book before it got hyped to death! I am glad you finally read it, though.


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