*Parts of this review appeared on the blog Taking the Waters, where I discuss the writing life and my adoration of 18th-century literature. It has been amended to fit my rating system, but otherwise, the sentiments are the same!
It took me months to find Kristin Cashore’s Graceling in stock anywhere. I used to see it all the time, but when I finally decided my urge to read it wouldn’t be abated, it wasn’t there. Luckily, my perseverance paid off, and I found it sitting on a shelf at one of the five (yes, five) local Half Price Books. I bought that sucker without a moment’s hesitation. When I want to read something, I will not be stopped! On to the actual review part…
Graceling is a YA novel best described by the blurb on the back cover:
Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.
When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.
She never expects to become Po’s friend.
She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away…
Well, this is something new. A protagonist who’s an assassin. I tend to love protagonists because they’re great people, but what was Katsa going to be? When the blurb has me asking questions and wondering what would happen, it automatically moves up in my to-read list.
Katsa was an interesting character for the most part. You think she’s a cold-hearted assassin at first, but within a few pages, you realize that she’s not and would rather be anything other than the king’s thug. That leaves her with a choice: Continue to do the king, her uncle’s, bidding? Or make her own way in the world no matter what the king might do? We can all guess what she chooses, and that’s what makes this book get moving. Graceling sets out to explore Katsa’s development as a person from a somewhat reluctant assassin to a hero.
As you can imagine, romantic feelings develop between two of the characters because it wouldn’t be a YA novel, otherwise. (If you do know of a YA novel that doesn’t capitalize on teenagers’ raging hormones, please let me know what it is!) The romance was developed better than most, which is one of my all-time pet peeves. I love a good romance, but oftentimes, the characters are suddenly in love, and I don’t know why. I don’t like that. I want an explanation. I want enough character development to make it believable, and Cashore did that better than most.
The part of Graceling that really got to me was the climax and ending. This book is a whopping 471 pages, pretty lengthy for a YA novel. The beginning 410 pages geared me up for an epic climax and denouement that would leave me breathless. But after the 410 pages, the climax came and went like a small breeze you hardly feel, and I was disappointed. The ending wasn’t much better. So I ask, “How could a book that started off so well and even had a fast-paced middle, which is often where books fall flat, lose its steam when it was so close to the end?” My answer: I have no clue. I still don’t understand why the plot fizzled out, and I still feel disappointed. If you’re anything like me, you invest a lot in a book’s characters and the trials and tribulations that are thrown at them. You want the characters you like to succeed and the one’s you hate to fail miserably, floundering in a cesspool of their own creation. And you want it all to happen after building up considerable tension and making the protagonist use every effort they have to overcome the baddies. But in Graceling, the tension was there, and I was ready for something larger than life, and it didn’t happen. It came quickly and ended even more quickly. A matter of a few pages and the baddy was defeated without much effort from our protagonist.
That’s too bad really. Katsa had a lot going for her in the beginning. She seemed like a wise assassin and yet naïve in normal things, like boys. They mystified her, and to me, that is pretty realistic for a lot of teenage girls. For the most part, I liked her. I liked how she was a more complicated character than you sometimes find in YA novels, but I think that set me up for disappointment when it was all said and done.
Graceling should be on your list of books to read but be prepared to be let down by some aspects, especially the last 61 pages. Maybe you won’t be able to make it that far if you have a short attention span, but I say give it a go and see what happens. The worst that could happen is you waste a couple of hours reading before you realize that it’s not your cup of tea. Don’t worry. It won’t kill you. But you’ll be one step closer to discovering what exactly you do like in a book than you were before.
Katsa’s development as a character brings this story to life and is the driving force behind it. However, the plot fizzles out in the end, leaving you wondering how such a strong character could be dealt such a flat ending. 6 tails