Friday, January 20, 2012
Author: Kristin Cashore
Series: Seven Kingdoms #1
Genre: YA, fantasy
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books, 2008
Source: Borrowed from my sister-in-law
Katsa is Graced -- she is a unique individual with special expertise in a random skill, marked by having eyes of two different colors. People fear and avoid Gracelings, but none more so than Katsa -- gifted with the talent to kill anyone, in any manner, she discovered her Grace by killing a hapless cousin who happened to annoy her at a young age. However, despite Katsa's ability -- and her uncle, who uses her as a thug to enforce his rule -- she wants to do good in the world. On a secret operation to save an innocent man, she discovers a dark secret among the Seven Kingdoms, and she discovers Po, who is also Graced with a powerful fighting skill. Soon the secret ties Katsa and Po together, leading them to save the future of the Seven Kingdoms.
This book was a mixed bag for me. There were elements that I absolutely loved, and a few things that left me cold. Overall, I found it an exciting and unique story that will satisfy any lover of high fantasy.
First of all, I loved the setting. Katsa and Po travel throughout the Seven Kingdoms, and I really enjoyed the variety of places they went through and the vivid descriptions of lands both beautiful and savage. Cashore's writing was very evocative, painting great imagery. I also enjoyed the fantasy element. Fantasy was one of my first loves in literature, and while paranormal fantasy is a popular genre right now, sometimes it is hard to find fantasy like this -- heroic, romantic, tinged with magic. Graceling was able to evoke this fantasy feel for me while also being very unique and avoiding cliche.
I also enjoyed Katsa's personal development, although I didn't always understand her. Katsa begins this story angry and confused, frustrated with her uncle's control over her but unable to break it. However, early on she shows herself capable of powerful love -- for her cousin, for Po, for Bitterblue, and for the people she wants to help with the Council. I liked this contradiction in her -- she is fierce, the most talented person at killing in her world, and she's never shirked it, but she is also capable of caring deeply and compassionately people, albeit refusing to sacrifice everything.
I also loved Po. I loved his quiet humor, his willingness to try anything, his skill at escaping difficult situations. I loved his Lienid culture -- how cool would it be to wear rings for every member of your family, to carry little mementos of them with you always? I also loved how he reduced the fierce and easily angered Katsa into a crying, lovesick girl. Not that I like crying, lovesick girls better than strong ones -- quite the opposite. But I think the fact that she came to love him that much speaks very highly of him.
About Katsa turning into a crying, lovesick girl, however; there was one thing I didn't quite understand. Even if I put aside my personal beliefs about marriage (to keep it brief, that it is very very good), I didn't understand her behavior. Throughout the book, she maintains that she never wants to marry, never wants to be tied down to anyone or anything. She wants to be free to pursue her life and her goals. Okay, I respect that. I can imagine if she were to marry some lord, she wouldn't be free to pursue her life and her goals. But I don't understand why she maintained that attitude toward Po, and here is why: when they parted ways at one point in the book, she was completely devastated. Not just, "I'm really going to miss you, I wish we could be together right now," completely and utterly wrecked. So I'm not sure why she wants to be able to leave him at will. I know there are lots of rationalizations -- being forced apart is different from leaving at will, for one thing -- but I guess I can't understand not wanting to be with the person you love. I am passionate about writing and passionate about nursing, for example, but I would still choose my husband over my work, if the choice had to be made. Anyway, I am now on a soapbox and ranting, but that was my major problem with the story.
My one other problem was, despite how much I enjoyed Katsa and Po, I never felt like I knew them. I always felt slightly detached, like they were acquaintances whose personal lives were interesting but not fully important to me, if that makes sense. I liked their story, but I was never fully drawn in.
However, with that said, I plan to finish the series. Graceling is a unique and adventurous fantasy read that should be enjoyable to a broad spectrum of readers.
Warnings: Violence, off-the-page love scenes