It seems like Graceling has been in my library since time began, yet I have never gotten around to reading it properly. I am the worst person for getting distracted by other books, even when what I’m reading is very good. Shame on me, eh? Graceling came up on my radar again as I was watching a university lecture about YA lit being too mature and Kristin Cashore was one of the authors on the panel. She was talking about the sex-positive attitude her books have and the visibility of abuse in her Graceling series and it intrigued me enough to want to revisit her novels.
Graceling really is refreshing in the way that it presents young adults to young adults. Although Katsa inevitably goes on a journey and subsequently learns more about herself on the way, I appreciated how, even at the beginning, she never seemed unsure of herself completely. Throughout the novel, Katsa had a relatively sure sense of self and therefore the reader did too. Her convictions never changed and only her understanding of the world and the people around her grew. Cashore’s presentation of her young characters, therefore, wasn’t patronising. I liked how Katsa had already forged strong moral convictions for herself outside of what people expected from her. Although she grew exponentially as a character, there was already a solid person to build the new experiences upon.
Po and Katsa’s relationship is also different to many in other young adult novels. A lot of the time in teen fiction, the growing relationships correspond with the storyline. As the novel’s plot develops, so do the characters’ relationships. Although it is supposed to be a subplot, the romance is often inseparable from the main storyline. In Graceling, however, you had two independent characters fall in love but it really was a supporting story line and only added to the characters, not the plot. One of the most refreshing parts about Po and Katsa’s portrayal is, as Cashore described, their outlook on sex. I loved (LOVED!) how Katsa realised she didn’t need anyone dictating the commitment they had to one another except themselves. From the outset, Katsa vocalised her dislike of marriage and Po never forced her to change her views. Together they agreed to a committed relationship that allowed them both the freedom they needed. When Katsa and Po are separated (spoiler, soz) and she is left to carry out their mission alone, she is more than capable. There was no knight in shining armour riding in at the last minute to save the day because Katsa was more than capable. When they were together, they worked as a team, but neither outshone the other’s ability. I don’t think I have ever seen romance handled in this way in a teen novel and I honestly can’t express how much I loved it. This is the type of novel women should give to their daughters as it truly shows how independent and complex female protagonists can find love and friendship but not have to sacrifice themselves to enjoy it! GO KRISTIN!
However, as much as I enjoyed Graceling, I do have one small criticism with the novel. As the characters entered the wilderness, I would sometimes feel myself getting disinterested in some of the long descriptions of their travels. I understand they were travelling for significant lengths of time but sometimes the descriptions entered into the mundane. I don’t think it would have bothered me as much if the action scenes weren’t so short. Moments of huge plot development seemed to be rushed. Instead of spending a couple of paragraphs describing a sudden turn of events, there would be only be a sentence or two. Two big climaxes in the novel could have been missed if I decided to skip a line. My interest in the travel sequences could have been restored if Cashore had indulged in some longer action sequences.
That said, I really did enjoy Graceling. Although the ending was interesting, though slightly predictable, Cashore quickly made up for this with an unexpected plot twist that I wasn’t anticipating. The plot twist doesn’t immediately change the conclusion of the novel as it is more to do with the characters, but this in itself made the twist more intriguing. I am definitely interested enough to want to follow the characters as the events of the novel unfold in the next two installments. I am particularly interested in what happens to Bitterblue and am excited to read her book in the concluding novel of the series.
Have a good one Fledglings!