Graceling by Kristin Cashore is a young adult (YA) fiction novel. I really, really liked this book. I liked it so much that I read it through twice back-to-back and still wanted more. It's definitely how I felt about The Hunger Games, although when I read that, I already had the whole series so there was not waiting for the following book. I know that there is a prequel to this novel called Fire, but I think it spends a lot of time with the antagonist of Graceling - one that I'd rather not think about again. Instead I'll wait for Bitterblue; whenever that comes out.
Graceling is the story of Katsa, the niece of a king from one of the seven kingdoms in the story. Katsa is a Graceling; a person who is graced with an extreme skill. Gracelings have different colored eyes (like Mila Kunis) and can be graced with anything from dancing and storytelling to fighting or mind reading. Katsa has a killing grace (one blue eye: one green eye); she can kill anyone with her bare hands and is used by her uncle, the king, to make sure he is never contradicted. She works as a thug for her uncle, but also starts a council to help the citizens of the kingdoms, who are subject to all the crazy whims of their kings. In the story there is, of course, a cute boy (who is also a graceling with one gold eye and the other silver), lots of fighting, perilous journeys, and a horrible villain that I absolutely hated (another graceling who, of course, has one red eye).
*** Spoilers Below****
It's strange that I hated the villain; he's really only in the book a couple of times. I think it's the idea of someone cutting and torturing animals and small children for fun that made him pretty contemptible. That would do it, no?
Of the other characters, Po was my favorite. Finally, a male lead & romantic interest that I actually find charming! I never really understood the appeal of the guys in most other YA novels (though I did love Finnick!); they were too weak, angry, tortured or angst-y for my taste. (And, yes, I understand that I'm not a teenager, and these books are for teenagers). Po actually seemed worthy of being the main guy - he's strong, smart, funny and perfectly happy most of the time. He doesn't need Katsa to save him, and he's not clingy or possessive which really kills me about some of the other guys.
I can't actually say that I liked the character of Katsa. She seemed a bit one dimensional - either confused, scared and angry or protective and stubborn, and that's about it. Yeah, she could kick ass, but I didn't really connect with her. There was really no internal dilemma - although the author tried her hardest to create it. She wasn't like Katniss (since I'm comparing YA novels) who was selfish and manipulative, but also complicated and completely relatable. Katsa was at her best when she was with Po. That was really the only time that I didn't want to throw my book against the wall for her calling Bitterblue "Child" (so annoying!) and being rude to almost everyone.
I loved the way Po's relationship with Katsa developed. It doesn't feel forced, and was the best part of the book. The rest of the plot is interesting, but it's not amazingly original like the Hunger Games. About their relationship - I've seen several reviews with people freaking out about Katsa's unwillingness to marry and have children. I understand the outrage but, really people, she's supposed to be 18! Who wants to get married at 18? Give the girl time to change her mind, and, if she doesn't, oh well, not everyone wants the same life. She had her own goals. I actually find it refreshing that a book might make it ok for a girl to not have to base her life on finding a guy and having kids.
I wouldn't recommend the book for very young kids - there are a few racy scenes and lots of fighting, but for everyone else, it's great! I'm excited to see how everyone grows up in the next book. Stay tuned!