Wednesday, March 25, 2009

REVIEW: Graceling

Cashore, K. (2008). Graceling. Orlando: Harcourt, Inc.


Kasta is graced with a skill for killing, one that her uncle, King Randa, has taken advantage of since she was a small child. Marked by her beautiful and mismatched eyes, Kasta’s killing reputation extends to all of the seven kingdoms.

Kasta’s killing ways begin to change when she encounters a stranger with another grace during a secret mission to rescue the kidnapped father of one of the other kings. Leaving the stranger alive, Katsa later learns that he is Po, the grandson of the kidnapped man and a prince. As Katsa continues to question her role and allegiance, she joins Po in the search for who is behind kidnapping his grandfather.

I had expected to enjoy this book more than I actually did. I’ll admit Graceling was given high praise by a friend of mine and was compared to one of my favorites, Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown. It wasn’t that Graceling necessarily fell short of expectations, I think my problem was with how long the book was. I found myself mumbling, “four-hundred pages left…three-hundred pages left, two-hundred and ninety-nine pages left….” I felt like a lot of the conflicts could have been condensed. There was a lot, A LOT of traveling and practice fights. While this was where the majority of the romance was, I felt it could have been done more quickly. But then, it’s also possible I have the reading mentality of a nine-year-old boy. So, judge for yourself.

With less action than many fantasy novels, Graceling considers the role of women within a society as Katsa seeks freedom and notices the roles and dangers presented to other girls in the medieval-esque society. It is probably for the best that fighting isn’t used to build the tension of the novel, after all, when your protagonist is undefeated and known to be able to outfight any group, no matter the number, it is not going to add to the tension to see her fight. The novel does however include both subtle humor and a subtle mystery.

My other problem with the novel involves Katsa’s desire for freedom. While she doesn’t want to serve a man, she takes on the responsibility of protecting a child. Without hesitation While Katsa still chooses where and how to go places with her charge, her charge’s safety and well-being are always Katsa’s first priority. Which, in my mind, challenges Katsa’s freedom. But then, that may tell you less about how Katsa views freedom and more about how I view freedom.

*Spoiler Below*
Sticking with the exploration of freedom for one more comment, much of Katsa’s consideration over freedom, comes when she contemplates whether or not to begin a relationship with Po since marriage would mean he’d have power over her. (The answer: Become lovers, of course! With a sex scene, which, while not explicit, pushes more than most books.)
*End Spoiler*

Activities to do with the book:

This is a great book to use to begin a discussion of women’s roles in imagined societies as well as in real societies.

Students could create their own maps of the layout of the seven kingdoms.

More than anything this may be a good book recommendation, particularly for teenage female readers who love strong female characters or fantasy.

Favorite Quotes:

“It was a land of seven kingdoms. Seven kingdoms, and seven thoroughly unpredictable kings” (p. 17).

“What’s the point of a public execution,” he said, “if the public misses the part where the fellow dies? I can see that when I give orders I shall have to compensate for your mental ineptitude” (p. 29).

“Normal. She wasn’t normal. A girl Graced with killing, a royal thug? A girl who didn’t want the husbands Randa pushed on her, perfectly handsome and thoughtful men, a girl who panicked at the thought of a baby at her breast, or clinging to her ankles.
She wasn’t natural” (pp. 32-33).

“She would knock his nose from his face. She would thump them both, and she would apologize to neither” (p. 90).

“Take care. She has a knife, and she’s willing to use it.”
“Good for her” (pp. 280-281).

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