Monday, March 26, 2018

Review: GRACELING by Kristin Cashore

Rating: 4/5 stars

In the world of the Seven Kingdoms, some people are born with exceptional skills called Graces. These people are called Gracelings, who can have any kind of skill ranging from cooking to fighting to mind reading to eating rocks without getting sick. Our protagonist Katsa is Graced with killing with her bare hands. Because of her competence, she is forced to work for the king, who is also her uncle. He uses her as his personal assassin, sent to deal with anyone that wrongs him across the land. But Katsa is tired of hurting innocent people and listening to his every demand. She decides to team up with Po, a Graced prince from a different kingdom, to do the world some good and escape from her conniving uncle.

The first third of Graceling was pretty slow, not a lot of action or plot happening. I’m actually a bit disappointed that I didn’t enjoy this book more in the beginning. It had been sitting unread on my shelf for nearly ten years, and maybe that wait had hyped it up too much for me. Thankfully, however, once I got a fair way into the story, my outlook turned around and I really started to enjoy it more.

Cashore’s writing was a bit lackluster in this book. Some of her descriptions were clumsy, and lots of the characters’ thoughts were repeated. I actually thought I was rereading earlier pages at times because the words used were almost exactly the same as what was said a few pages back. This made me a little frustrated because I thought the prose could have been a lot more cohesive than it was. This book actually helped me to discover something about myself when it comes to books: even if the storyline is awesome and the world-building is plentiful and the characters are likable, I won’t enjoy the book if the writing is below average and doesn’t flow well. I’ve enjoyed books before with exquisite writing but unforgettable characters and a slow plot. However, books that have all the right elements but lack in quality writing are just hard for me to get through. I thought Graceling would be like this during the whole book, but it was only the beginning that was a struggle. The first third of the book was three stars, the middle third was four stars, and the last third was five stars with a fantastic ending. The writing gradually improved as the story progressed, and I slowly started gaining interest in what was happening.

This book actually felt like an adult fantasy novel in some ways. I know that’s a weird description, but let me explain. What I mean is the level of depth that is put into the world building and character development, and the direction the plot goes, are all things I would expect out of an adult fantasy rather than a young adult fantasy. The only difference is the characters are young here, hence the young adult genre. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this book felt mature, and I liked that. Sometimes young adult fantasies can feel trite or childish, but this one didn’t to me.

I loved the characters in this book. I think my favourite was Bitterblue. When introduced, she was quiet and submissive, but by the end she was strong-willed and she learned to carry herself with confidence. I love to see character arcs like that. Katsa also had a nice progression throughout the story. She discovers her true worth and decides she will not let anyone control her. I loved how she was able to overcome that trial and stay true to herself. And Po was equally as awesome! We need more guys like him in literature. Likewise, Katsa and Po are a great hero/heroine duo. They had a nice friendship that I admired, but what I didn’t care for was the instalove in the beginning. I normally don’t mind, or sometimes even enjoy, a quick romance in books, but in this book, it felt a bit forced. Katsa was angry at Po one day shortly after meeting him, and the very next day she’s riding out of town alone with him, staring into his eyes. This seems sudden, and it’s very obvious where their relationship is going. I would have liked to see more in-between time when their feelings develop. This book is long; there was time for that. Luckily, though, by the end, their relationship had developed and was tested and felt genuine.

I did feel while reading this book like the plot was suffering a bit in the middle of the story. Particularly when they’re in the mountains, I didn’t have a clear idea of what the end goal was. It felt like Katsa and Po had a problem and wanted to fix it, but they had no idea how to do that so they were running from it with no plans beyond just getting away from the situation. That all changed when they arrived at the island, though, and the plot kicked back into full gear. Despite the huge amp up in tension at this point, the resolution felt too rushed for me. I was on edge from the second they arrived on the island, but a few pages later the big conflict was solved, too quickly and easily it seemed. I expected more action and a not-so-simple solution, but it was entertaining to read nonetheless.

Overall, Graceling is an interesting fantasy story with a unique magic system (the Graces). It has great characters, especially some strong female leads. Although it started out slow, it only got better and better, and I’m so glad I finished the story. I can’t wait to see where the companion books take me in the rest of the series because I know it will be an awesome journey.

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