Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Author: Kristin Cashore
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: September, 2009

Series: 1 of 3 interconnected books, can serve as stand alone

My list of favorite books of all times is short and very unchangeable. One of the titles – The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton – has lived there since I was thirteen. I’m excited to add Graceling to this exclusive party. Yes, I loved this book that much.

Katsa (not to be mistaken for Katniss) is a Graceling, a child born with a special gift called a Grace which makes her, along with all other gracelings, the property of the king who just so happens to be her uncle. And lucky for him that he virtually owns her because Katsa’s particular skill is killing people. An unbeatable fighter, Katsa makes the perfect thug for carrying out her uncle’s brutal form of domination over his subjects. Katsa hates her life and, in an act of rebellion, establishes a secret council of others determined to help those who need it whether the king approves or not.

While on a mission to rescue the kidnapped father of another kingdom’s king, Katsa encounters Prince Po, a fellow graceling who is nearly her equal in fighting skills. Po has tracked down his kidnapped grandfather and is determined to solve the mystery of who did the deed and why. At first reluctant to become involved, Katsa decides to join Po in his journey for answers. The pair discover a dark force at work that, if not stopped, threatens everyone in their world. Along the way Katsa also learns much about the true nature of her Grace and what that means for her future. And even though she fights it with all she has, Katsa can’t ignore the feelings growing between her and Prince Po, feelings that challenge every preconceived notion she’s held about herself.

Katsa is an immensely compelling character. While she’s one of the deadliest forces in her world, Katsa sees herself as a prisoner who has no choices at all. In order to survive the isolation her grace has caused, she’s shut off any of her softer emotions, and she believes herself as truly incapable of loving anyone in a normal sense. As she comes to care for Po and his young cousin, Bitterblue, her resolve to avoid personal attachments begins to melt. She doesn’t change overnight, but her realization that she’s powerful in many ways and can control her own destiny is like a flower that blooms throughout the book.

Po is a swoon-worthy hero, strong enough to hold his own against Katsa but secure enough in himself to admit that, in the end, she is the better fighter. Rather than be put off by Katsa’s outwardly cold demeanor, he persists in breaking down her walls, and the moment when he confesses his true feelings is incredibly moving. At one point, Po has to make a heartbreaking sacrifice and I found myself tearing up, something I rarely do when reading words on a page. The romance between Katsa and Po left me breathless and is one of my favorites in any genre.

In addition to fantastic characters, the driving plot is well drawn. Graceling contains the most blood-chilling villain I’ve read in ages. I can’t discuss much without giving away key plot points, suffice it to say, as I realized how powerful the villain was and how much of a threat this person posed to both Katsa and Po, indeed, their entire universe, I honestly had no idea how they would ever prevail. I was on the edge of my seat for the entire last half of the book, truly terrified for Katsa and Po.

Graceling is a fantasy set in magical kingdoms full of different peoples and places, but Cashore manages to create this entire other world without losing the story in the minutia of world-building details. We learn enough to evoke a sense of time and place but the focus never wavers from the characters or their journey. While I enjoy fantasy for the creativity it displays, I read books for characters and plot, so I appreciated this fine balance between world building and story.

Most of all, I liked that Katsa is a strong YA heroine who is fully capable of saving herself. She comes to learn that she can allow herself to need others and can trust them to get her back without ever subverting her own power or sacrificing what she believes to be the right thing for her. Unlike in so many other uber-popular YA paranormal titles, Katsa’s love isn’t given easily or just because Po is oh-my-god-so-hot but is hard earned and well worth the effort. And this includes her own sense of self-worth, something she struggles to gain throughout the entire book. In the end, Katsa’s ability to love herself is the ultimate victory and the best happily ever after. 

I knew this book was a true keeper the second I finished it and, feeling slightly stunned, opened it back up and began reading it all over again. I simply didn’t want to leave the world of Katsa and Po.

Rating: Up All Night

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