Sunday, 2 August 2009
Review: Graceling - Kristin Cashore
From book cover: In a world where people born with an exceptional skill, known as a Grace, are both feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises: the Grace of killing.
There are some books I covet for months before their release date. There are some that I put on my Amazon wish list and mark as highest priority in the hope that my sweetheart will buy them for me (this has never happened); some that I buy on pre-order; and some that I order from the US because I just! can’t! wait! for the UK release.
Graceling was not one of these books. I’d heard about it, figured it sounded like a ‘maybe’, and actually kinda confused it with The Fetch by Laura Whitcomb. (In my defense, there’s something vaguely similar about the US cover art, if you scrunch your eyes up.) However, I buy a lot of books. I go through must-haves pretty fast (speed-reading is my Grace) and end up polishing off pined-for releases in a day, so last week I finally got around to ordering this one.
Katsa has been a killer since she was eight years old, when her Grace announced itself in a way that has shaped her life ever since. Her uncle, King Randa, uses her to exact revenge on those who displease him - the ultimate human weapon - and most people are afraid of her. In an effort to control her own destiny, Katsa has started ‘The Council’ - secretly using her Grace and her allies to do good.
It was only after I started reading that I realised how much I loved the idea of Graces. They are so much more than the mere medieval-times superpowers I had assumed them to be. They form gradually, they’re shaped by the individual who possesses them, and they’re open to interpretation. Graceling is not about a girl who kills real good, it’s about a girl deciding that she’ll work out who she is and what she's going to do with it, thank you very much.
The only trouble I had with Graceling was the third-person POV. I prefer first-person, because it makes me feel closer to the characters. However, this novel wouldn’t have worked as well in first-person - a feared and near-friendless Lady killer sharing her innermost thoughts from page one? - so this is more my own failing. All I would say is that anyone else with a strong first-person bias should persevere with Graceling because chances are, you will come to love Katsa through the eyes of characters like Raffin and Po and Bitterblue. I did.
Without giving too much away, there’s also a love story. It’s the best kind of love story, because it feels as though Kristin Cashore invented the characters and put them in a situation together and *they* just fell in love. It feels inevitable and understandable, and the characters keep their own identities.
I have learned my lesson. Cashore’s future releases, Fire and Bitterblue, are going on my must-have list. Especially Bitterblue, because I can’t wait to see what Cashore has in store for her. My speed-reading Grace has done me a favour this time.