Read or Die

Review of Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

How to put my reaction to this book into words? It doesn’t pigeonhole well.
On the one hand, it’s an absolute delight. The concept of Graces isn’t one I’ve come across. And creating different levels and nuances for each individual makes it a fruitful world to explore. You also have the fact that not even the Graced themselves always comprehend the depths and intricacies of their talents. The possibilities for stories stretch outward in an endless arch – something I’m sure Ms. Cashore understands.
You also have the complexities of Katsa’s character. Is she the way she is because of her Grace, or does the Grace express her inner self? The strength she demonstrates – physically and mentally – serves as a powerful message. She compels the reader to sympathize with her, even when she makes decisions that run counter to the usual YA female lead.
But, on the other hand, you have one of the most boring journeys in the history of literature (and I’ve read Tolkein). Getting to Monsea takes up chapters the editor should have hacked from the book. You gain NOTHING in those pages! It’s a mindless slog that belies the tension and adversity supposedly rampant in the countries. Oh, fine, Ms. Cashore squeezed in the “requisite” romantic angle that YA supposedly requires. But why? Boring a reader to do so feels wasteful. And comparing the journey on the other side of the primary confrontation creates a knot of resentment.
Then you reach that pivotal moment with King Leck – and you want to throw the book across the room. It’s so unsatisfactory! Rather than bursting the balloon that’s swelled through chapters and chapters, someone unties it and gently allows the air to escape. Nothing runs counter to the plot laid in place, but it lacks PUNCH. (And, incidentally, the “big reveal” after? Yeah, saw it coming miles and miles away)
I suppose you could say that makes the book balanced, but I don’t know. It depends on how you weigh each element. For me, I’m still trying to decide where to place it in my thoughts.

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