Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Graceling by Kristin Cashore


In a world where people born with an exceptional skill, known as a Grace, are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her Uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to carry out his dirty work, punnishing and torturing anyone who displeases him. Breaking arms and cutting off fingers are her stock-in-trade. Finding life under his rule increasingly unbearable Katsa forms an underground Council, whose purpose is to combat the destructive behaviour of the seven kings - after all, the Middluns is only one of the Seven Kingdoms, each of them ruled by their own king and his personal agenda for power. When the Council hears that the King of Liend's father has been kidnapped Katsa investigates . . . and stumbles across a mystery. Who would want to kidnap him, and why? And who was the extraordinary Graced fighter who challenged her fighting skills, for the first time, as she and the Council rushed the old man to saftey? Something dark and deadly is rising in the north and creeping across the continent, and behind it all lurks the shadowy figure of a one-eyed king . . .

My review is: buy the book, read it, love it.

Didn't think I'd get away with it.  Dammit.

I'm late to the party, as usual.  Practically the whole world has read and reviewed Graceling by Kristin Cashore and it is for that reason that I was so wary of it.  I was scared of the fuss and the buzz. 

And it's died down a bit now and perhaps I get to perhaps kick it off again?

I didn't think I would like Graceling as much as I did Fire, the companion novel which I read first.  Call me crazy.  And I don't like it as much as I did Fire.  Fire was an excercise of awesome.  Graceling was the practice run towards awesome. It is a pretty damn good book and I utterly loved Katsa and her Graced fighter, Po.  I loved the story line, the mystery at its heart and the overall feel of the story.  There is nothing wrong with the story or the writing, I just think that Fire is the superior one of the two novels and I suspect that the third novel, Bitterblue will again be the better one of all three.  Because I think that Ms. Cashore will just keep getting better and better with each book.  

The thing is, you can see how the author has progressed as writer.  First came Graceling, then came Fire.  This girl (Ms. Cashore) has talent, heaps and heaps of it.  Graceling is a strong graceful debut novel with memorable characters, interesting concepts and very good world building. Fire, more so.

But this review is about Graceling.  Actually, the review is about Katsa who is the Graceling and who is the main character of the novel.  She is pretty much the scariest heroine conceived, what with her Killing grace.  But she is also tremendously conflicted about it and spends a lot of time making sure she is careful with her grace.  I loved how her grace became less of an issue once she meets the mysterious Po and discovers that he is a graced fighter.  I would love to see a physical fight in real time between them.  I suspect it may be something out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Enter the Dragon and a John Woo movie. 

There are various fight scenes and various forms of martial combat in the novel but what the author does, instead of writing page after page after page of tedious sequences, she gives these amazing little snippets and bursts of imagery that completely satisfies.  It is one of the many things I appreciate about her writing skill.

I'd say that if you are an aspiring writer, to read both Graceling and Fire to see what the author does with voice and characterisation.  When you sit in "how to get published" seminars and an agent and publisher can't quanitfy what exactly they mean by "voice" and "I'll know it when I see it", they are talking about the talent Ms. Cashore has in abundance.  It sucks you into the narrative so that you reluctantly have to tear yourself away from it back to the real world on occasion.

Some sections of Graceling does however require some suspension of disbelief, more than others.  But you know, just go with it because at the end of the day, you are reading about a character who has tremendous innate skill and is basically one of the X-Men of her world.

I'm not sorry I've waited this long to read Graceling.  It was a pure treat, written by an author who has great skill and you can just tell she had a great time writing it too.  The narrative flows well, the characters and minor characters are fun to hang around with and at the end of the novel, I think a bit of Katsa's gutsiness may have rubbed off on me.  *swings her axe*

Graceling is published here in the UK by Gollancz.


Lauren said...

It really is great to see this one getting some blog love again. As someone who hasn't yet read Fire, the fact that you think it's *even* better than Graceling is definitely enough to give me a nudge to read it asap. I have to say though I'm most looking forward to reading Bitterblue - can't wait to see where Cashore takes that character.

Peta said...

I absolutely loved these two books when I read them in January and I've already placed my pre-order for Bitterblue! I am already looking forward to the excuse to reread Fire in preparation for that book arriving next year.

Ladybug said...

Great review! I'm even later to this party, I have Graceling in my TBR pile but I haven't picked it up yet.

Carmen said...

I'm even later, later, LATER as this is the first I've heard of it. Will definitely be searching it out based on your review :)

Janicu said...

Have you read FIRE yet? I think I loved it even more than GRACELING! :) I am glomming on Kristin Cashore.