Book Review

Graceling

Graceling

  • Author: Kristin Cashore
  • Genre: YA Fantasy
  • Publication Date: October 1, 2008
  • Publisher: Harcourt
  • Series: Graceling Realm #1

CONTENT WARNING: violence, harm to animals, mention of death of a child, blood, murder

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

His eyes. Katsa had never seen such eyes. One was silver, and the other, gold. They glowed in his sun-darkened face, uneven, and strange. She was surprised that they hadn’t shone in the darkness of their first meeting. They didn’t seem human …

Then he raised his eyebrows a hair, and his mouth shifted into the hint of a smirk. He nodded at her, just barely, and it released her from her spell.

Cocky, she thought. Cocky and arrogant, this one, and that was all there was to make of him. Whatever game he was playing, if he expected her to join him he would be disappointed.

In a world where people born with an extreme skill—called a Grace—are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him.

When she first meets Prince Po, who is Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. 

She never expects to become Po’s friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away … a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

I’ve had my eye on this book for a while — it calls out to me every time I go to the library, and I finally gave in on my last visit. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this book!

I was quickly sucked into the story, with it’s deceptively simple writing, intriguing world-building, and fabulous plot. It was surprisingly fast-moving, and I struggled to put it down. 

Katsa has a Grace that puts her at risk for exploitation, and simultaneously alienates her from everyone around her. Most people are afraid and uncomfortable around her to start with, and the fact that her uncle, the King, uses her to intimidate his enemies and keep them in line, doesn’t help. This isolates her from others and prevents her from making friends, with the exception of a select few people. Naturally, she isn’t very good at reading people, and finds it exceptionally difficult to relate to people. So when she meets someone, she’s puzzled when they interact on a level differently than she’s used to: 

“She didn’t have to explain herself to Po, and he explained himself to her without her having to ask. She’d never known a person with whom she could communicate so freely—so unused was she to the phenomenon of friendship.”

As if that isn’t enough, she struggles with her emotions. She lives by focusing on the tasks at hand, and focusing on survival. But she also has a difficult time processing more difficult feelings, and managing her anger. She has had to work very hard to manage her Grace, but her anger is a different story:

“She’d learned to control her skill, but she hadn’t learned to control her anger. And that meant she still didn’t control her Grace.”

But as she starts to interact more with Prince Po and conduct clandestine work behind the back of the king, she starts to have more questions about the jobs that the king forces her to do. She doesn’t feel good about her work for the king, and it forces her to reevaluate her own behaviors and wishes:

“When you’re a monster, she thought, you are thanked and praised for not behaving like a monster. She would like to restrain from cruelty and receive no admiration for it.”

As she learns more about friendship, she also makes a discovery about herself and her Grace. She starts to think for herself and see things more clearly for perhaps the first time in her life. Instead of focusing on distasteful tasks, she decides to make her own choices and do what she thinks is right. But in doing so, she uncovers a secret that threatens the whole world that she knows. And she learns the value in caring for others:

“He’d said it simply, as if it were nothing. But it wasn’t nothing for Katsa to rely on someone else’s protection, she’d never done such a thing in her life.”

This story was actually fascinating, and I marched right back to the library as soon as I could and picked up the next two books in the series, because I knew I didn’t want to wait to dive back into this world. The magic system was well-defined, and I liked learning about how all the different Graces manifested. It’s exceptionally creative, since none of the Graces seem to appear the same way. This is definitely an underrated book, and I have high hopes for the rest of the series!

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 12

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