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Review: Graceling, Kristin Cashore

In Katsa’s world, people with Graces, or extraordinary skills, are feared and sometimes exploited.  They are distinguished by their dual colored eyes.  Unfortunately for Katsa, she has a killing Grace, and has been used by her uncle to do his bidding since she was eight years old and accidentally murdered a man with her bare hands.  When Katsa seeks to rescue the father of the King of Liend, she stumbles upon a mystery and on Po, a man who can fight almost as well as she.  Katsa decides to defy her uncle the king and set off to solve the mystery, the curious Po at her side.

I love fairy tales, especially fairy tales expanded into novels.  While this is a completely new story, it feels very much like a fairy tale.  It is a once upon a time fantasy with a darker edge in that Katsa’s Grace is so violent.  The closest I can compare it to in style is Robin McKinley, who I recently discovered and loved.  Thus it’s not at all a surprise that I really enjoyed this book too.

For Katsa, this is completely a coming-of-age story.  She is disgusted with herself, with her uncle, and with the world.  She knows so little about both her Grace and the wider world, though, that even as a teenager she essentially goes on a journey of self-discovery.  She realizes how much she herself is a product of the kingdom in which she grew up and takes steps to become a strong, confident woman.  Add in a little bit of budding, confusing romance and Cashore has the perfect combination for a teenage girl.  Although I enjoyed the adventure that Katsa went on, I appreciated her believable and steady character growth much more.

Cashore’s pseudo-medieval world is also very well considered.  The kingdoms that we see are distinct and interesting, especially Po’s, and the idea of Graces is beautifully developed.  It’s fascinating that even people with Graces shy away from others who have them, because no one knows what particular skill might be lurking behind blue and brown eyes.  Everything feels organic and natural and it’s very easy to lose yourself in this world.

Graceling is a compelling fantasy set in a fairy tale medieval world.  Katsa is one of the best female characters I’ve come across in YA, with strengths and vulnerabilities in equal measure, and her adventure had me spellbound.  Well worth a read for both young and regular adults.

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