Author: Kristin Cashore
Review: In Graceling, Cashore creates a world influenced by the politics of absolute monarchy. In this richly drawn story, we are introduced to rulers who are outright corrupt, malevolent, and self-serving. But in this world, they’re not the only figures to be feared for their power. Enter Gracelings. Gracelings are human, but they’re not ordinary creatures. Gracelings are born with extraordinary talents or abilities that make them unusually skilled in common professions or practices. Still, in the world of the Seven Kingdoms, Gracelings are not above their rulers. Gracelings deemed worthy for their skills are exploited by the kings and queens who own them. But in this story, we have a Graceling who defies her king by bringing justice to her land in secret.
Katsa, the heroine of our story is Graced with killing, and her uncle, King Randa uses her as his personal thug. She’s sent to torture or kill those who have wronged him; even if the wrong is minor or unfounded, Katsa is responsible for sending King Randa’s messages. Revolted by the actions her Grace requires her to do, Katsa uses her ability to protect innocent civilians from the cruelty of those in power. As the founder of the Council, an underground group dedicated to bringing balance to the world, Katsa is a powerful figure in her own right.
Katsa is undoubtedly strong, resourceful, and independent. While Katsa certainly possesses good morals by believing in equality and valuing justice, she isn’t perfect. On occasion, she loses her temper and is known for making mistakes. At times, she needs an adviser to be the voice of reason before making decisions. Still, all of these qualities make Katsa a realistic and relatable character. Though for all of her positive and realistic attributes, Katsa’s freedom with sex and issues with commitment turns a multitude of readers off.
Katsa views the institution of marriage as unbearably restrictive: marriage is just another tool for men to use over women. Because we can arrive at the conclusion that her uncle, King Randa would marry her off to royalty for advantageous purposes, I recognize why Katsa regards marriage with such disdain. However, she later learns that not all men are out to demean women, but Katsa continues to view marriage as paralyzing. Unwilling to address her problems with commitment, she goes on to get involved in an open relationship with little hesitation.
Throughout the novel, I wondered if Katsa defied any marital laws by refusing a husband? What are the repercussions, if there are any? Even though it’s quite clear that no one could ever force her into an arranged marriage (because of her Grace), she’s still a woman living in a male-dominated world. Unfortunately, the issues Kasta has with commitment aren’t entirely addressed, and I really wanted a deeper analysis from the author.
It’s no secret Katsa falls in love in this story. When Katsa meets her match in Po, readers can’t help but fall in love with the couple as they discover their feelings for each other. They don’t have simple dinner conversations to get to know one another. Instead, they take an unconventional approach; they get tangled up in wrestling matches. Katsa and Po challenge one another and in the process, begin to trust each other. Their interactions are so memorable and enchanting; I simply adored watching their romance unfold.
Though some readers strongly dislike the open relationship Katsa and Po take on, I didn’t share the same response. For parents who are concerned about their children reading this book and its liberties with the topic, I would say have a serious conversation with them, and talk to them about the variety of relationships that exist; not all relationships work the same. Love has different forms of expression. Even if some people regard this type of relationship as immorally selfish or unpromising, it doesn’t mean their assumptions are correct; just as Katsa’s views on marriage aren’t correct either. What I do believe is that Cashore successfully writes about a topic that not a lot of people are comfortable with; the topic is left open-ended for readers to discuss and interpret, and at the end of it, I don’t have a problem with it.
Although I talked a lot about the romance in this novel, surprisingly, it isn’t the book’s main focus. As I said, the core of this story is political intrigue, but Cashore seamlessly incorporates adventure into her book as well. Princess Bitterblue needs to be rescued from the grip of her psychotic father, King Leck, and Katsa and Po are leading the efforts. However, Katsa, Po, and Princess Bitterblue have more to uncover than what’s being presented. There’s more to King Leck, and when readers uncover the truth, they’ll be equally surprised and disturbed. He’s the type of villain you want taken down immediately, without mercy.
Effectively imagined and eloquently told, this story examines abusive rulers and their exploitation of people, but even through this harsh reality, we are shown a sliver of freedom. In this story, the main characters choose who they care for and whether they want to exercise good principles or not. No matter what the restrictions are, no ruler has a real say in how someone should feel for another human being, and though this isn’t the only message in the book, for me, it’s the one that made the most impact.
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Kindle Edition: www.amazon.com