Teen Lit: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Recently I finished reading Graceling, a young adult fantasy novel by Kristin Cashore. The main character of Graceling is the Lady Katsa. Katsa has a special power – a Grace – though it’s not one that she takes much pride in. Her Grace is killing, and her uncle, King Randa, uses this power to strike fear in his enemies. She feels smothered by her uncle’s power over her, but Katsa still goes behind his back to create the Council, a group of people, slowly spreading through the seven kingdoms, that tries to right the wrongs committed by the various kings. It’s on one of these missions that Katsa meets Prince Po. The two work together to figure out why someone would kidnap his grandfather, uncovering a sinister plot that could affect everyone in the kingdoms.

A big problem I had with Graceling was the disproportionate way things were drawn out. Many parts of the book, which I would have pegged down as important, happened in a snap. The first meeting with the main villain turns into a run for their lives so quickly that I had to go back and reread the part two more times just to figure out what happens. Much later, he’s defeated almost as quickly, and then everything unfolds in a good way as the witnesses, previously covered in a mind fog, quickly come to the understanding that Katsa did the right thing. A bit too easy. Then there are other parts that are just dragged out. Katsa has quite a few inner thoughts, but these needlessly circle around – frustrating when I just want her to get back to the journey. And the end of the book is one of the longest I’ve seen, lasting chapters after our villain’s been dispatched. I can see how this might be needed; Graceling is the first of three books, and there is some set up to what I suspect is in at least one of those sequels. I only wonder if Cashore could have found a way to pare that part down.

There was plenty to love about Graceling, though. First of all, Katsa kicks all kinds of butt. Not only is she the most physically strong character in the story, but she also shows how a woman, even one who initially feels pressured into situations, can have and obtain quite a bit of autonomy. She’s a bit like this at the beginning, but especially by the end of the novel she proves that no one can tell her what to do or make her give up any part of who she is, even the person she loves more than anyone. Katsa is exceptionally dense when it comes to anything dealing with emotions, but it’s also refreshing to see a lead female character that isn’t overcome with emotions on a regular basis. And despite the problems with pacing, the writing is very well done, and aside from Katsa I found myself loving just about every character, like her love interest Po and the small-but-tough Princess Bitterblue.

Overall Graceling was a good read. It has many of the elements people look for in young adult fantasy literature – special powers, steamy romance, and a badass female character to boot. Still, my pacing problems put this book lower down on the list of suggested reading.

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