GRACELING by Kristin Cashore
Verdict: Enthralling from start to finish
Katsa is born to kill, 'Graced' with special skills that make her a deadly weapon. From a young age, her uncle, King of Middlun, has trained her to carry out his dirty work by doing what she's good at - hurting others. Kasta resents her uncle, but struggles to stand up to him. Only when she meets Po, another Graced fighter, does she start to realise that she has a choice, and that her Grace can be a blessing too.
I love a good book about individuals with abilities, and a traditional fantasy realm is as good a place as any to host these characters. The writing had an old fashion feel to it, and a few well done tropes - seven kingdoms ruled by a mix of tyrannical kings, as per standard - but GRACELING still stood out to me as an original story.
Katsa's ability to survive that kept me enthralled. One challenge layered on to the next, and although the ending climaxed pretty suddenly while I was still savouring the showdown, I enjoyed this book throughout. I wanted to know if the characters would survive the next night. I wanted to know what was weird with Po that time, and most of all, I loved how Katsa, Po, and Bitterblue grew so much throughout the story. Katsa in particular switches her brain on, strives to do better, and learns that the hard way through her mistakes.
Katsa has very strong views about who she is as a woman, and I know it's sparked a lot of debate in the past with reviewers. All I can say is that Kasta's opinions made sense to me, based on her personality and past. So, Katsa doesn't like pretty dresses, long hair, or the idea of marriage. This isn't surprising, as she's grown up almost completely around men who either fear her or want to use her. She feels most at peace when she's fighting, not when she's dressed up or courting, which again makes sense because she's good at the former and not at the latter. As she's someone who has been raised as a killer and not a loved one, someone who doesn't know what a mother could have been to them, I don't doubt that she will have issues with raising a family. I never felt that the author was imposing any views on me about feminism, but I can also see how some might take it.
I'm also glad that Po didn't try to change Katsa, and instead loved her for who she is. There's no doubt that Katsa has issues with herself, and it will take more than Po to fix that, but he helps her start to see herself for who she could be.
The world of the Gracelings captivated me. I want to know more, and was excited to learn that the sequels follow different characters. Maybe it's me, but sequels often flop, especially with an ending as rounded as that one, yet starting book 2 with a new character will hopefully keep the Graceling spirit alive.
Source: Bought it!