Graceling is the first of the Graceling Realm books, a series by author Kristin Cashore. It follows Katsa, the niece of a cruel king, graced with the ability to kill any man with her bare hands since the tender age of eight. By the time the book starts, she’s around seventeen (I think) and very much miserable under her uncle’s strict rule. She works as his thug: going around to kill, torture, and maim those whom he deems disrespectful or conniving. Katsa hates this life, but doesn’t see what else she could do—that is, until she meets Prince Po.
First off, I’m gonna confirm that this is a shining review; I really, really loved this book. At first, I was kind of thrown off by the sheer power that Katsa possessed—it’s not something typical of a YA heroine. And it was amazing. She’s literally going around, throwing people to the ground, cutting off limbs; she’s like the scary thug that gets featured in these fantasy YA novels, but… it’s Katsa herself. The heroine. Our protag. It was fantastic. All of her fight scenes had me going “YEAH YOU BEAT HIM UP” even though I’m very much an uncombative person.
Superhuman power aside, Katsa’s really atypical for a female character. She’s blunt—to the point of robotic—but unlike, for example… I can’t think of any examples. It’s past midnight. Anyways, unlike most of the aloof, blasé femme fatales of YA fiction, Katsa’s more of a gentle giant. She’s not a giant, but she’s got the heart of one. Ahaha. My point is, Katsa’s the type of powerful thug that is ruminative, contemplative, wonders about the magic in the world. She’s innocent, for all of the blood on her hands, but she’s practical, which is probably why she’s survived for so long in the king’s court.
Katsa’s best friend is her cousin—the king’s son. You’d think that this would mean a budding romance between the two, but that’s not true; they’re just friends. And I know you’re probably like PRATYU WHAT THE HECK THEY ARE COUSINS. I just realized this as I was typing it. That they are cousins. Duh, there wouldn’t be a romance. You dumbo, Pratyu. I guess I just didn’t connect those two things together BUT keep in mind that this is kind of a medieval-y setting. It wouldn’t be that mind-blowingly weird for two cousins to get married during ~then~.
Still, I recant my previous statement. I guess it’s not so cool that they were just friends—but it was relieving? I don’t know, I feel like my foot is in my mouth now. LET’S MOVE ONNNN.
Prince Po! He’s fun. He’s kind of the manic pixie boy to Katsa’s tired thug persona. But this isn’t a bad thing. I think I say that a lot in my reviews, “this isn’t a bad thing,” but it’s not! I swear! He’s really fun and he’s charming, and he’s the only one thus far that can hold his own in a fight against Katsa.
Their initial meeting is… memorable. Also.
I like that the characters all keep their own secrets and that these secrets are revealed to us through the story. There’s no third-person-omniscient-knowledgeable-about-all-thing going on here, we’re just as clueless as the reader. For example, the antagonist is not who you would expect to be the antagonist, and his power is incredible as well. There was a lot of thought going into what these character’s abilities are and how that affects their personalities and motivations—how it’s reflected in their personalities and motivations.
Honestly, while I was reading this book, I was like huh. I’d give this 4/5 stars. But THEN. I got to the part with King Leck—and that changed the game entirely. I was so thrilled! It was nice.
Alsoooo the introduction of BITTERBLUE who is the sweetest little usurped-and-hardened little queenling that I’ve ever… read. Read? Sure. I loved her! I really loved all of the characters in this book, and that’s an impressive feat. I’m not saying that I’m hard to impress, but to get the reader to care about all of the characters in a novel is difficult. Miss Cashore managed it.
I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a kickbutt female protagonist, an adventure story that twists and turns like a Shyamalan movie, a truly terrifying antagonist… anyone who enjoys a good book. Please, do yourself a favor and pick it up!