” ‘I know a Graceling when I see one.’ He jabbed with his sword, and she rolled out of the way. ‘Let me see the colors of your eyes, boy. I’ll cut them out. Don’t think I won’t.’
It gave her some pleasure to know him on the head with the hilt of her knife. [...] They would all say, when they woke to their headaches and their shame, that the culprit had been a Graceling boy, Graced with fighting, acting alone. They would assume she was a boy, because in her plain trousers and hood she looked like one, and because when people were attacked it never occurred to anyone that it might have been a girl. [...]
No one would think of her. Whatever the Graceling Lady Katsa might be, she was not a criminal who lurked around dark courtyards at midnight, disguised.”
In Katsa’s world, some people are born Graced, or with a very extreme skill. They are also born with two different colored eyes, marking them as different for everyone to see. Katsa is Graced with killing, a Grace that she despises because she is used as a weapon by her uncle King Randa of the Middluns. On a secret mission, she meets Po, prince of Lienid, and another Graceling who is Graced with fighting. They form a friendship and eventually are thrown into a dangerous journey together, where they both find out that their Graces and the kingdoms of their land are not what they seem.
There are many, many things about Graceling that need to be applauded. First, it’s a great story. It is an adventure story, a love story, a friendship story, a fantasy story and so much more. You cannot pin it down into one genre or another.
Second: Katsa is one of the best female characters I have encountered recently. She’s strong, wholly independent, and flawed. She doesn’t let her affection for a boy completely change who she is; in fact, it only fortifies her beliefs that she will never get married. She never once backs down on this belief, even when everyone thinks she is crazy. The relationship in the novel is one of mutual respect. Even with all that being true about Katsa, however, she still doubts herself sometimes. I think that is just as important as creating a strong female character, because there is not a person out there who has not doubted themselves at some point. Katsa is extremely realistic and a perfect role model (even with all the killing).
Third: It does not shy away from violence. At times this novel is violent, but it never felt out of place or gratuitous. It was completely necessary for the story and a clear distinction was made between the violence that is enacted out of hatred or greed and that that is necessary for survival. Actually there are a lot of parallels between this novel and the non-fiction One Day the Soldiers Came. Real children are used as weapons in war, and I think it’s entirely relevant that that becomes a theme in fiction.
Fourth: There is sex! I loved loved loved that this novel did not equate sex with something negative. In Graceling it is a beautiful thing shared between two people who are in love, but not married. They are wholly committed to each other, but do not need societal labels to tell them that it is okay. I applaud Kristin Cashore for taking that risk and handling it beautifully.
Fifth: Raffin and Bann! You know it’s true, and while I wish it was explicitly said instead of just hinting at their forbidden relationship, because they are both men, I still give Cashore big props for hinting.
I am now going to bestow the highest honor I can possibly bestow on a YA fantasy novel: If I were 5 years younger, I would write endless fanfiction about this.
96% – Well-crafted and meaningful, a fully engaging fantasy novel. Highly recommended.