Tuesday, 6 December 2011

review: Graceling

by Kristin Cashore
Harcourt, 2008
young adult fantasy

In a world where having a Grace marks you from the minute your eyes change colour, Katsa’s Grace for killing has moulded her into the king’s ultimate weapon. But the stirrings of rebellion within are fanned when the Lienid prince Po enlists her in a quest to find out how his grandfather's kidnapping relates to the enigmatic king of Monsea. As Katsa discovers the depths of her Grace and of her emotions, she and Po race to stop one man’s malice from wielding a Grace none have ever seen the like of before.
I am so proud of that blurb it's ridiculous. I should be hired as a copywriter now, don't you think, Penguin, Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette? Yeah? Hmm? ;)

The cover:

While it certainly exudes the fantasy aspect of the novel, the font’s calligraphic style, Oriental decorative background and the plain knife make the cover seem too standstill; it’s not representative of the journey which is the storyline. The face certainly is interesting, though. (IMO, though, the paperback is fabulous.)

The book:

Though horrifically late to this bandwagon, I’m now glad I didn’t have to wait for the release of Bitterblue. (Okay, so maybe I still have to wait another six months, but that’s nowhere near three years.) I can also see just why this novel got so many starred reviews (and a debut, too!), because it’s this kind of novel that makes me hope fervently for a comeback in YA fantasy.

We starts in medias res, with a fine overview of Katsa’s kill skills (*giggles immaturely at the rhyme*) and providing the structure for the main plotline to follow. As the heroes make good their rescue, the action is interspersed carefully with such choice tidbits as Katsa’s upbringing, the Council’s formation or the seven kingdoms’ kings. This well-blended beginning allows the reader to land firmly on their feet in Katsa’s world.

And indeed, the world’s intrigue starts from the first description of the kingdoms; corruptions and rivalries set the tone for palace plots and schemes, while foreshadowing the antagonist’s role in the book. Though ballgowns and banquets have their proper place in the beginning, as befitting a castle setting, the true adventure starts with the arrival of Po and his cryptic Graceling. The developing relationship between Po and Katsa is a genuine highlight of the entire book, almost beating out the actual mission they go on. (Though once they started having sex, they couldn’t stop. But as Rida said, that was probably just hormonal.)

Speaking of the mission: Graceling consists of one of the best missions I’ve read of. Most fantasy novels either have twisted, convoluted, come-together-at-the-end plots, or they have straightforward let’s-get-to-the-end plots. This novel hits the middle ground: there’s an unexpected bend in the middle of the plot that shifts the focus off the original objective, but both legs of the plot—before and after the twist—are fairly straightforward. The two sections’ difference is startlingly refreshing. (Or maybe I’ve just read too many similar novels.)

Graceling is a magnificent fantasy. Period.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5