Saturday, January 7, 2012

Review: "Graceling" by Kristin Cashore

Imagine you're a 8-year-old girl and a lecherous older man reaches toward you, intending -- well, nothing good. You lash out at him and he falls dead at your feet. From that moment, you're feared and shunned for your special talent: killing.

Thus is the life of Katsa, niece to the king of Sundoria. She is a Graceling, a child born strongly talented in at least one way. Gracelings are easily identified by their eyes, which are two different colors. Easily identified, in Katsa's case, means easily ostracized. It doesn't help that her uncle uses her to abuse and frighten those who cross him.

With few friends to call her own, the appearance of Po, a Lienid prince and a fellow Graceling, shakes her world. He's gifted at fighting, which means he can hold his own against her. Somewhat. But Po's gift goes beyond mere fighting, and Katsa's discovery of its true nature -- and her decision to accompany him on his investigation of his grandfather's kidnapping -- changes both their lives.

"Graceling" stuck with me. Katsa starts as a wounded, half-formed character who is so frustrated by her life that she can't even put it into words. She hates what her uncle asks her to do and the lack of control she has over her own life, but she sees no way out.
"Who are these fools who continue to resist Randa's will? Haven't they heard the stories? Don't they know he'll send me?”
"Isn't it in your power to refuse?" Po asked. "How can anyone force you to do anything?"
The fire burst into her throat and choked her. "He is the king. And you're a fool, too, if you think I have choice in the matter."
"But you do have choice. He's not the one who makes you savage. You make yourself savage, when you bend yourself to his will."
With the slightest nudge from her friends, she breaks away from her uncle's control and blossoms into a pretty kick-ass heroine. It takes the better part of the book, as it should. All the while, Cashore avoids the temptation of letting Katsa slip into more traditional female roles -- she doesn't come to relish pretty clothes or getting dolled up, nor does she relent on her determination to remain unmarried. It's refreshingly true to her bone-deep and oft-repeated desire to never let another person dictate her fate.

Some stories look like they'll be a light, entertaining read and leave you considering, seriously, what it would be like to walk in their characters' shoes. "Graceling," to my surprise, was one of those books.

"Graceling" is listed as a young adult/children's novel, but the writing and the handling of some pretty mature themes make it an enjoyable read for adults. Teenagers/children reading this book will encounter at least one obvious, but not graphic, sex scene.