My Giveaways & Announcements
★ new rating system with umbrellas! because they are cute! ☂☂☂
★ new giveaway coming soon!

★ GIVEAWAY: Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings! (US/Canada)
2 copies with signed bookplates! ends December 21st!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore


Seven Kingdoms #1:
Graceling
by Kristin Cashore

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, and in her case horrifying, 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. When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.
She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace — or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away...a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.
young adult fiction ; fantasy { genre
PG-13 for violence and sexual content { rating
October 1, 2008 { first released
Graphia paperback (472 pages) { review edition
borrowed { acquisition
Amazon.com ; Amazon.ca ; IndieBound ; Book Depository { purchase links

Why I Read This
Recommended by so many people as an epic feminist fantasy.

First Lines
In these dungeons the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind.

Overall Rating
☂☂☂

Not a feminist novel in any way I perceive it, and lacking in overall impact, this novel merely delivers an intriguing fantasy world, and 1.5 kickass heroines (the expected perfect boyfriend is just that, perfect and ubiquitous). The villains are not particularly interesting, nor are the side characters. Though Katsa is strong and independent, rebelling against society's pressures for women, the reader is constantly being treated to her own admonitions of how "not normal" she supposedly is. The Boyfriend, Po seems the more "feminist" character, comfortably encouraging Katsa to be the alpha female. As this series is made up of companion novels rather than sequels, the ending was filled with resolutions too abrupt (death of the Big Bad) and too vague (Po and Katsa's future). Not to say that the novel is not worth reading, but it is not as ground-breaking as I had hoped it would be.

review posted to Amazon.ca, Book Depository, goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari

Plot/Themes
☂☂☂.5

Graces are cool! Yes. The idea of children being stolen by the royal families was interesting too. Yeah.
I felt incredibly let down by the plot. It wasn't as epic, complex, or thrilling as I had hoped. It reeked a little too much of typical fantasy adventure quest. The Evil Baddie of Meanness was just that: some person who is incredibly mean, boringly so. Hurting little animals and children, no motive besides "I will conquer all". This Absolute Evil concept just irks me too much, almost as much as the fact that the "evil" soldiers are a mass of faceless, personalityless puppets to be taken down en masse by the hero - this is a flaw I see in way too many action genre texts. The concept of the "Council" was too underdeveloped, seemed like a convenient deux ex machina type deal that is brought up whenever Katsa's group needed accommodations. Also, mismatching eyes: cool, but relevance outside letting everyone know that you have special powers? I see this pattern in Fire too, maybe a quirk of the author's where she likes the "appearance" (notable physical difference, ex. mismatched eyes, weird color scheme) matching the "inside" (special)?
Another major issue I had with this book was the supposed "feminist" view it portrayed. I mean, sure Katsa is a strong, independent woman who rebels against conventional roles of womanhood (ex. marriage, motherhood, domesticity), but she's also constantly repeating to herself "I'm not normal". Not sure what the author is trying to say here, but what I'm hearing is "yeah, Katsa can be amazing and shit, but not every woman should think they can be strong like her and still feel 'normal', normality is still defined as the things Katsa rebels against." It's not that Katsa doesn't embody feminist ideals, but the readers aren't really given any encouragement to try the same - at least not from Katsa, the woman, herself. I'm not a feminist, but I'm pretty sure the message I'm getting from this book isn't particularly feminist.
My qualms aside, I did like that this book looked into some of the pressures that women experience from both themselves and their society. I liked the mention of menstrual cycles, which isn't really mentioned in too many teen books I can count. I loved the little debates on how women's role as the childbearer and whether it is something they truly feel obliged to accomplish, or if it is a social pressure. I liked Katsa's persistence to not marry, as a way to keep herself "free" from the constraints that convention places on her.

Characters
☂☂☂.5

When I saw all the rave reviews, I thought Katsa would have a more...interesting personality. I mean, yes she's incredibly strong and independent, but she's also rather emotionally stunted and kinda...dumb. I mean, okay, it's rare to see a female character like this, and I do appreciate the novelty (I giggled many times), but why couldn't she have been smarter, calmer? It's that oft misleading notion that, if a woman is given too much power (her Grace), she will either misuse it (ex. killing her cousin), or become consumed by it (ex. her constant rashness and anger). For all the "breaking out of the mold" hype that Katsa seemed to have generated, she seems to have stayed quite boxed up as just another "impulsive young hero", only female. That by no means suggests that I don't like Katsa. On the contrary, she's my second favourite character, because like I said, she's a novel creature. I suppose I am just hugely let down by the hype.
Po, on the other hand, I adored. This shouldn't come as a surprise as almost every guy love interest in every YA (and adult) fantasy world is made out to be the "perfect boyfriend material". He's gorgeous, he's strong, he's mysterious, and he's completely dedicated to the girl. But that's about all the similarities he shares with other YA love interest types. Po is willing to let Katsa lead, let her assert her dominance without feeling threatened by her strength - which is pretty monumental compared to the "I know what's best for you, just trust me" patronizing from the rest of the male YA world. He is emotionally mature, and doesn't judge by "society's standards". He's also the perfect match for a "non-conventional" like Katsa: accepting her without expecting her to conform. I'll refrain from getting into a rant about "made-for-her" boyfriends though...
Side characters were just that, there to support the main cast and plot. I didn't really feel like any of them jumped out at me, except maybe Katsa's governess, she was nice. There were little family moments with Katsa and Po's respective families that I smiled at too. Bitterblue shows promise I guess, I do like reading about strong children and overcoming trauma...but suspension of belief is kinda required seeing her wield a sword.

Writing
☂☂☂

The fairytale vibe I got from parts of the book were pretty nostalgic...and probably contributed to the overall "muffled" fantasy experience I get whenever I read a book that doesn't really connect me to any point in the story (ex. characters). I liked Katsa's emotional stilted dialogue, it forewent the need for dissecting confusing motives, she just does what she feels at the moment, doesn't really put hidden meaning into her words.

Ending
☂☂☂

Maybe it's because I know there's no actual sequel to this story, it left me feeling quite disappointed how this volume left off. I didn't understand why Po ended up the way he did, it seemed to diminish him as a character. I understand that Katsa and Po both have things to do and it does take a lot of confidence in a relationship to part for long periods of time - doesn't mean I like this ending. Plus, Big Bad was defeated a bit too easily, with a power that strong, it just seemed so anticlimatic to go down that way.

Seven Kingdoms Series
#1 Graceling (2008)
#2 Fire (2009)
#3 Bitterblue (2011)

Reading Challenges
A to Z Challenge (2010) → G for Graceling
New Author Challenge (2010) → Kristin Cashore
TwentyTen Challenge → Bad Blogger's [review @ Melissa's Bookshelf]
What's in a Name? Challenge (2010) → title
Young Adult Challenge (2010)
Fantasy Challenge (2010)
1st in Series Challenge (2010) → Seven Kingdoms
Blog Widget by LinkWithin

8 comments:

Najela said...

I felt the same way about this book. I still like it, but it's not what I thought it would be. Katsa was really annoying to me, even though I did appreciate that she played a role typically given to guys. But I was extremely annoyed that she was beating us over the head that she didn't want to be a mother or be married or whatever. After they have sex, the tension was diffused and it wasn't interesting anymore. The ending was lack luster and strange.

That being said, the writing was the thing that kept me reading. It's the reason why I'm willing to give her other books a try.

Dazzling Mage said...

Interesting opinions of the feminist aspect of this book! I couldn't decide if it was a little forceful or not. Still I enjoyed Katsa's strong personality, even if she wasn't very smart.

Awesome and very thoughtful review. =)

Inspired Kathy said...

I really liked Gracely and its sequel Fire. I read sheerly for entertainment and found them very entertaining.

Betty: Reflections with Coffee said...

Thanks for such a honest review!! It helped me decide whether or not I want to read it. I appreciate it.
Here from Saturday Situations

Cherry said...

I came from Saturday Situation hosted by Candace's Book Blog and Pure Imagination.

I've read similare reviews to yours. If that many people think the same, then there must be some truth in it. I think I'll skip this book/series. Thank you for sharing your views!

Cherry Mischievous
cherrymischif-warrior [at] yahoo [dot] com

Cass (Words on Paper) said...

I came from Saturday Situation hosted by Candace's Book Blog and Pure Imagination.

I'm a bit worried now, since I'm excited to read this one. I've heard so many rave reviews of this one though, so I'm still going to give it a shot. Like the look of your blog! I may just follow. :) Love the 'brellies! (umbrellas)

Cass (Words on Paper) said...

Whoops! *brollies (umbrellas)

brandileigh2003 said...

I actually really liked Katsa's character and the side character of Po. I agree about the villians though. Thanks for the review.

Visiting from Saturday Situation!
Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog