Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Digital Audiobook narrated by Chelsea Mixon, David Baker, Zachary Exton
Published by Harcourt on October 1, 2008
Series: Graceling Realm #1
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Length: 471 pages or 12 hours, 31 minutes
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Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.
She never expects to fall in love with beautiful Prince Po.
She never expects to learn the truth behind her Grace—or the terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.
With elegant, evocative prose and a cast of unforgettable characters, debut author Kristin Cashore creates a mesmerizing world, a death-defying adventure, and a heart-racing romance that will consume you, hold you captive, and leave you wanting more.
This book is a really difficult one for me to review.
It’s not because of mixed feeling or any qualms I had with the story itself – no, I loved this book and now have so much respect for Kristin Cashore as a writer – but because this book really made me think about how female leads are characterized in YA literature, about reading levels and character relationships, about high fantasy as a genre… so much. I have so many thoughts about this book.
After deliberating about it for a while, I’ve decided I’m going to talk about the romance in Graceling. The other topics have been earmarked for other times and places. We’ll get to them later.
The romance here. Romance in YA books tends to lean dangerously to emojis with bit heart-eyes. Instalove runs rampant, and so do love triangles. Characters bat eyelashes at each other and jump into relationships with haphazard glee. That’s fair for YA. I don’t like it, but it’s fair. The romance in Graceling is a lot more careful and mature. Katza doesn’t fall in love the way other heroines fall in love. She falls slowly, carefully, and by surprise.
It makes this love story delicious. It’s also a strong reason why I think Graceling should be classified as New Adult and not Young Adult, but again… another topic for another day.
Katza is definitely one of those heroines that is trying to find herself. She has spent so much of her life alone and feared, controlled by the shadow of her cruel uncle, that she finds it difficult to trust people. When she meets Prince Po, she doesn’t trust the Graceling prince and his strange, alluring eyes. She doesn’t trust him, but she grows to respect him because of his remarking fighting skill. Finally, the Graced Katza has someone worthy to train with.
Of course, not everything is as it seems. Her relationship with the Prince is tested early on, even in the infant stages of their friendship. Po endures a lot from Katza, tempering her anger and patiently standing in support of her even when she would rather never see him again. And it pays off, because when Bitterblue falls into their lap, they have come to rely on one another more than ever. It doesn’t happen all at once, but piece by piece until you feel the pain as they must take their two separate routes.
This story takes place not over the course of days, but across months. The love story that develops blossoms from more than just idle infatuation. The characters are forced to consider their desires, their hopes, their fears. They are forced to be vulnerable to one another and take care of each other. They are forced to let go and find one another again.
And yet, despite all I’ve said, Graceling is not a love story at its heart. It’s a carefully crafted fantasy, with a curious magical system and deep political backgrounds. It’s a landscape of different races that spreads out with vibrant cultures and kingdoms. Cashore talks about commitment, truth, prejudice, sexuality, honor… there’s so much packed into this novel that there’s little wonder that I can’t stop thinking about it.
It is high fantasy, and for those who like fast-paced, humorous YA tales that are so popular these days, this genre bears a warning. High fantasy is slow-paced. There’s a lot of traveling. The world unfolds slowly to give the reader time to become familiar with all the different players on the board, the setting, the political situation, and the magic system. High fantasy tends not to dive into too much action until the book is already 30% read. If you have the patience for it, high fantasy is one of the most beautiful and alluring genres… but it does demand your understanding and your attention in early chapters. It’s my favorite genre, though I see why it may not appeal to others.
Graceling is a fantastic pick for readers who have enjoyed books such as Seraphina or Eragon. Fans of The Lord of the Rings will also enjoy it, although it’s a bit lighter and simpler than that. I recommend it wholeheartedly and absolute must buy a hardcopy to add to my personal collection.
Small sidenote: The overall narration of this audiobook was alright, but I just didn’t like the lady who read for Katza? She felt very flat. It didn’t ruin the book, obviously, but it was a bit grating.