Title: Graceling (Graceling Realm #1)
Author: Kristin Cashore
Genre: Young Adult, High Fantasy, Paranormal
Rating: 4 / 5
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Katsa is a Graceling—a person born with an expert skill, which is both feared and revered over the seven kingdoms. Katsa’s Grace is that of killing, something that her uncle, the King of the Middluns, exploits thoroughly by sending her on frequent errands to do his bidding. It is not until she meets fellow Graceling, Prince Po—with the Grace of combat, that her life begins to change. Po seeks his kidnapped grandfather, and together Katsa and Po journey across the seven kingdoms to find answers. There are more unexpected answers unveiled on their journey though, as they discover that there is more to their Graces than meets the eye.
Graceling was a thoroughly enjoyable and unique read. I loved the original concept that one could be born an expert in a certain skill unique to that person alone. Another interesting characteristic of the Graced are their two different eye colours. Po had one gold and one silver eye, which I found a refreshing description in comparison to the usual stereotypical love-interest of this genre. Neither Katsa nor Po is portrayed as overly beautiful either, as it is their idiosyncrasies that appeal to one another. This isn’t a typical insta-love tale, but one about a female who is doing her best to survive in this world, without needing a relationship to do so.
It was an absolute pleasure to read a female heroine who was both strong emotionally and physically, as well as independent to boot (literally). Graced as she is with killing, Katsa can defend herself without a second thought. She also doesn’t feel the need to dress in the typical gowns expected of her station, nor does she dress in a manner to garner attention. She goes out of her way to avoid those types of attentions. In fact, when she is proposed to in the earlier part of the book she abruptly declines, which is unthought-of in this type of patriarchal society. The slow development of her relationship with Po is based on one of friendship and companionship. They accept one another for who they really are, without the need to change their appearances to do so. I really appreciated the feminist undertones throughout, especially in the following quote, where Katsa discusses her desire to train women to defend themselves:
How absurd it was that in all seven kingdoms, the weakest and most vulnerable of people—girls, women—went unarmed and were taught nothing of fighting, while the strong were trained to the highest reaches of their skill.
Many of the relationships between the characters in Graceling are well-developed, and are both sweet and tender. I particularly enjoyed reading the interactions between Katsa and Po, as they playfully fight one another, and as she tries her best to resist her attraction towards him. I also loved the light-hearted relationship she has with her cousin, Prince Raffin, which inflicted much-needed comic relief amidst the darkness that is her Grace. Another interesting interaction was that between Katsa and Princess Bitterblue. Katsa takes on a maternal-type role with her as she fights for their survival, which was surprising considering her aversion towards having children.
Although I really enjoyed Graceling, I could only give it 4 stars as I found it was lacking a little in some areas. For instance, I felt that there was a lack of emotion throughout that made it a little harder to connect with the characters. Secondly, the pace was quite slow from beginning to end, with some parts somewhat stagnant, which would have benefited from a bit more action. Aside from those small criticisms, this was overall a really great read! I’d highly recommend this to fans of high fantasy, or for those who seek an engaging and unique story. Enjoy!