Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review - Graceling

Graceling (Graceling Realm #1)
by Kristin Cashore
Date: 2008
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 471
Format: hardcover
Source: Indigo

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 . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone. With elegant, evocative prose and a cast of unforgettable characters, debut author Kristin Cashore creates a mesmerizing world, a death-defying adventure, and a heart-racing romance that will consume you, hold you captive, and leave you wanting more.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I really wanted to like this one. I wanted to give it five stars. It has such a pretty, interesting cover and (for the most part) decent reviews. However, I can't give it five stars; it just wasn't that great.

The writing really started to bother me a few chapters in. We're treated to an almost stream-of-consciousness style, complete with plenty of too many sentence fragments. While this might be a stylistic choice that works well at times, I didn't think it was that appropriate for the high fantasy genre. It seemed too casual. And with issues like the overuse of the word "well" at the beginning of sentences (in both the narrative and the dialogue) throughout the first half of the novel but not the rest, the whole thing came off as uneven and a bit amateurish... which is a shame, because the basic plot wasn't too bad.

The execution of the plot was lacking, though. I was confused when Katsa and the Council were trying to figure out who'd kidnapped Prince Tealiff... because they'd rescued him from Murgon's dungeons in the first chapter, and yet they never seemed to think that Murgon was a suspect. Why not?  I would've liked to see that explained a little more; why, exactly, didn't finding a kidnap victim in Murgon's dungeon make Murgon the prime suspect?  On the other hand, there were points in the novel that were explained too much. At one point, Katsa was angry at Po, and it became clear that her anger was a contrived plot device. Her rage only lasted long enough for Po to plead with her for a few pages and give us an information dump about his Grace. Then Katsa's anger evaporated. That was convenient.

I also wasn't keen on Bitterblue.  She was supposed to be a 10-year-old girl, and we're told this... but if we hadn't been told, we could be forgiven for thinking she was a 40-year-old woman.  She spoke like someone much older, with turns of phrase that you might expect from someone who'd had years of etiquette and comportment lessons.  In this regard, she surpassed Katsa and even Po, which made no sense; why would a child sound more mature and refined than the adult niece of a king and an actual prince?  When I read unrealistic child characters like this, I scratch my head... and then chalk it up to the author not having spent much time around kids.

But for all its weaknesses, this book was strangely addictive.  I didn't really care for Katsa and I wanted to slap her throughout much of the first half of the novel... and yet I really wanted to find out what happened!  It doesn't happen very often that I read a book with this many flaws and then still want to read the sequel(s).

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3 out of 5


  1. This is one of my all time favorite books, sad that you didn't enjoy it as much =(

  2. I liked this one but I can't remember anything about it! I guess I'll have to do a reread before the third one comes out.

    Do not read my comment unless you do not want to know something ridiculous about one of the character's name. I am seriuos!

    To be honest: I will probably never read this book for one reason only... "Po" is the German word for someone's behind... A prince named "Butt". Argh.
    I think it is good advice for authors to google fantasy names before they use them.

  4. LOL, Sal Kaye! (I didn't realize that that name was a German word. I thought his name sounded kind of silly, in any case.)

  5. I didn't like this book either. It ended up being a DNF for me. It was quite a while ago when I gave it a try, but I remember finding bits confusing as well and just not getting into the story.