Sunday, 5 May 2013


While there are plenty of Medieval fantasy novels, grand and original ideas outside the generic ‘knight in shining armour sets out on quest’ storyline are hard to come by. Kristin Cashore, author of Graceling weaves the story of Lady Katsa the niece of King Randa set in the world of the Seven Kingdoms where quite occasionally a person is born with an extreme skill called a Grace, signified by eyes of different and strange colours. Their skills can take place in almost any form, from being able to bake better than any other or read minds. Katsa is Graced with a skill she finds a curse – the Grace of killing. These Gracelings are feared and exploited in the Seven Kingdoms, but none more so than Katsa, who's expected to do the dirty work of torture and punishment for her uncle. The story follows her voyage of self-discovery and struggle between enslavement and freedom, good and evil and the mystery of the One-Eyed King.

The reason why I loved this book was because of its originality and challenging stance on mainstream views. It is fascinating to see the world through the eyes of a girl who’s been a cold-blooded killer since age eight and yet is willing to go to great lengths to save it, and more importantly, has the heart to try. Katsa makes you feel her own intricate emotions of good, evil and all of the shades of grey in-between as a person who's viewed by others as nothing more than a slave and ‘murderous dog’ – and yet she sums up to so much more.

Graceling is filled to the brim with interesting and intricate characters from the strange and quiet Prince Greening ‘Po’ Grandemalion to the double-crossing spymaster Lord Oll and her cousin Prince Raffin who turned his hair blue! In this story we find characters that challenge the way we think, with no defined set of ‘good’ guys and ‘bad’ guys, but an intriguing mix including Katsa the Lady Killer herself.

What truly made me respect this novel above all else was its romance sub-plotline, yes, I said sub-plotline. Graceling is first and foremost a mystery and adventure of both political intrigue and bare-to-the-bone survival in the harshest physical conditions. When romance is introduced to Katsa’s story, Cashore didn't let it trump the main themes, and it stands as just another angle for the characters to experience and vary their reactions to other events.

The novel (and by extension, its series) tackles several serious issues that exist in our world today in the context of their universe; there’s blatant racism against Gracelings present, alongside homophobia and class division seen in the case of Prince Raffin and Bran, child abuse as shown by the relationship of Bitterblue and her father, and the corruption in law and order led by power shown in both the Kings and certain Gracelings. Not all of these issues are resolved entirely but they do create a sense of sad familiarity in the reader and the ability to connect this imaginary world to their own.

The main and overall theme of the book is judgment, or more, judging a books by its cover. Katsa is feared throughout the Seven Kingdoms because of her Grace and has barely any people close to her. People assume because she is a killer that she is also a monster, but as the reader learns it is much
to the opposite. The story immediately begins with her rescuing the kidnapped father of the Lienid King in the name of the Council without harming anybody, sending us the immediate message that she is a good and true hero, only for that thought to be cut down by Cashore immediately afterwards as we’re shown the perspectives of others. There’s many examples of pre-judgment in the story; Katsa judging Po on his true Grace, Po miss-judging Katsa’s abilities, Katsa’s first impressions of Bitterblue and so on.

Overall Graceling is a fantastic novel and a credit to the Young Adult Fantasy genre. Kristin Cashore captures the intricacy of the world, culture and its inhabitants in a beautifully written way. I would recommend it to anybody willing to have their ideas challenged and wits measured.

- Ella (Teen Reviewer) via Celia


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