Graceling by Kristin Cashore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Simply put, I found this to be a fantastic book. I loved the world that Ms. Cashore built. The concept of the Graced individuals was fascinating. I liked the way the Graced stood out with their eyes that are different colors from each other, and their phenomenal abilities that varied between each Graced person. And the characters that inhabit this story...well they weren't ones you could easily forget about or dismiss.
Let's start with Katsa. I felt for her. She was basically her uncle, King Randa's goon. He sent her to hurt people for his own selfish ends. Her Grace became something she hated about herself. It took Po's love and acceptance to get her to see that her Grace was a blessing, and to see it for what it was. Not the power to kill, but the power to make a difference. Katsa had some serious control issues. I totally empathized with her on that. Being under someone's thumb and control is an ugly, ugly thing. I could see why she wanted to be free to make her own decisions. So, that was something I respected about her, but it led to a big issue I had with this story, which I will go into shortly. That withstanding, even though I really disliked a decision she was set on, I loved her. I thought she was a great character. Her strength as a person was formidable. Her determination to protect others and to survive any obstacle humbled me. I admired her so much, it brought tears to my eyes.
Po was fantastic. Sometimes I am somewhat skeptical about these wonderful men that women authors write. Do they write men that they feel that women will instinctively love, or are there men out there as wonderful as Po is? I hope I meet one. Haven't just yet (no offense to the great guys I know). Po got my attention, and kept it, from the first meeting, in which he ends up encountering Katsa, and being one of the few who are somewhat of a challenge to her as a fighter. Po has a gypsy sort of vibe that reminded me of another favorite, Cam Rohan, from romance novels by Lisa Kleypas. He has an ease in his skin which makes him very attractive. He's gorgeous and sensual (not too sensual for a young adult book---but it's there alright). He's a great fighter. He's intelligent, resourceful, supportive, and insightful. He has a sense of adventure and an air of mystique. He was a really good guy. I couldn't love him more. Yet Po hides a secret that actually makes him a great counterpart to Katsa, although she has to take time to accept that he can see and perceive her in ways that no one else can. He has to come to terms with his own Grace, and that journey will not be without anguish to him. I overuse the term soulmates in my reviews, probably because I'm the sappy romantic who believes in this concept. But Po is without a doubt the one soulmate for Katsa. That made me more able to accept an issue I had from the romantic angle.
The secondary characters were very distinct and absorbing. Young Bitterblue is a character that really stood out. I loved her by the end of this book, and I look forward to reading her book when it comes out. The poor girl. What she suffered. It was completely harrowing! Then there's Prince Raffin. He was adorable. I hope we see him again and see him find his bride. Oh, the awful villain. I won't say who it is, but he was an abomination! He got exactly what he deserved! No question.
The world itself: Ms. Cashore stuck to simplicity and it paid off. She writes a world that looked a lot like our own, but the people in it gave this book the fantasy feel. If you like survival books and journey/quest books, you'll love this. It made me want to bone up on my non-existent survival skills. I couldn't do it justice the way Katsa and Po do. I liked the idea of the Seven Kingdoms, and how they related to each other. Far and above, Po's people stood out, with their penchant for jewelry, their dark hair and gray eyes--their culture was nicely distinctive. They had a Roma (gypsy) vibe that I liked.
The action and adventure were par excellence. I love both, and I heartily recommend this book, if you are of the same mind. If you love a heroine who can more than handle her own, and the combination of a tough heroine and hero fighting at each other's side, you will love this book. The fight scenes are thrilling and awesome. The violence is not so graphic that it's disturbing, but there is death and blood in this book. But, the value of life is very much made clear by the author. I think this book sends a good message to younger readers in how she handles some tough issues such as using power in a way that is helpful and not selfish and hurtful to others.
Okay, now I'll talk about the romance: It was scintillating, completely appealing. Katsa and Po had great chemistry. You knew they were for each other and no one else. You could see why they loved each other. This book does have some love scenes, but they aren't descriptive enough to be unsuitable for young adult books, but they had enough steam to make this book sizzle in a way that would appeal to a fan of adult romances, at least in my opinion. A good steam factor is about chemistry, and it was there in spades here. Also, there was that vibe of a love that was too strong to resist. Let me get into my one and only issue with this story. Katsa did not want to fall in love. She didn't want to give her heart away. She did not want to be owned, and not really to belong to anyone. She vowed not to marry or have children. One one level I could completely understand that, but it also frustrated me. I think Po more than showed he was the kind of man who would never try to own or control her. I think he gave her more than 100% of himself, but I felt she didn't give herself fully in return. I think agreeing to marry him would have showed her trust and love for him in return. I felt she did love him and show it, but I also felt she was holding a large part of her essential self back. And thus, the true romantic in me was unsettled and dissatisfied with the resolution of this book. I hope and pray that eventually Katsa will marry Po. I think he deserves that show of trust from her. I can't get away from my feelings about love. I think if you love someone enough, you want to marry them, and there is no substitute. That's my personal belief. And, it made the way this book ended a big issue for me. So, on the romantic front, this was not a 5 star book. It's more like a four. As a fantasy and a book overall, there is no question that this book is a five star book. But, if you are reading this as a romance, it doesn't quite reach perfection, at least if you are of a similiar mind to me. You might not be. You might be fine with this great couple existing forever in a relationship that is uncommitted to the rest of the world, and between them in the sense that Katsa feels she will always have the freedom to walk away from Po. Ugh, it makes my heart ache to think about it.
So, this is the best review I can write. It's so hard to describe my feelings about this book, and I did the best I could. I don't think I can add much more to it. I highly recommend Graceling. It was a pleasure and a joy, and I want to read more by Ms. Cashore.
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