Graceling is the last of the novels that I picked up last fall at a Scholastic Book Fair. When I complained to my oldest child that I didn’t know what to devour next, she pulled it off her shelf. I was a bit skeptical as I started into the story by debut author Kristin Cashore. Fantasy writing seems to divide itself into one of 2 categories, stories where the characters drag you in to a world that just happens to be made up and stories where the author takes a bit too much of a reader’s time to describe the details and setting of the marvelous and unique world they’ve created. I was a bit afraid that Graceling would fall into this “map-based” category.
Graceling’s heroine, Katsa, lives in a world with seven kingdoms, where sometimes people are born with eyes that are two different colours. This visible physical feature indicates the inner presence an extreme degree of talent, known as a Grace, that gifts such people. Sometimes, it can be as simple as an extreme skill at baking or healing… but in other cases, it can herald a much darker purpose. Katsa is Graced at killing, so she is feared by almost everyone as she does the bidding of her uncle, King Randa of the Middluns kingdom. When she meets another Graceling with skills that seem to almost match her own, she is both challenged and unsettled, especially as they are both caught up in a deepening mystery that could threaten all of the Seven Kingdoms.
Graceling caught me by surprise and drew me into the story far deeper than I expected. The plot twisted in ways that I couldn’t predict, which I am often able to do with beginner novels. The main characters grew and developed as the pages turned until I came to care deeply for what happened to them. Though the ending was not what I expected, it was still one that I could live with and add to in my own mind. I far prefer this to the current marketing trend of leaving everything hanging to sell the next book. In other online reviews for Graceling or her second novel, Fire, Kristen Cashore seems to draw criticism for a radical feminist viewpoint. I’m not sure that refusing to wrap up a tale with a Disney-like Happy Ending necessarily makes her a feminist… I just thinks it make her a writer that lets both her characters and the readers decide their futures for themselves.
Hardcover format, 471 pages, published in 2008 by Harcourt Books