Author: Kristin Cashore
Review: I haven't been reading much fantasy lately, especially not the traditional sword and sorcery kind since its appeal faded for me a few years back. Instead, I've been branching out to other genres -- this year in particular has been full of mystery novels.
So at first when I received Graceling for my birthday, I put it aside for the lack of a suitable mood. After all, it does sound like a traditional fantasy novel. The heroine is an orphaned young woman who lives and works at a court of one of the seven kingdoms. How much more cliche can you get?
Despite my reservations, when I sat down to read Graceling, I found a curious thing; I just couldn't stop reading. Turned out, I couldn't resist Katsa's story. She is the young woman born with a grace. A grace is a special talent and can be anything, a great ability to swim, bake, or hold breath for a really long time. Katsa's ability is to fight and kill and she is used by her uncle, the king, to do his dirty work pressuring men to stay in line.
Katsa's heart is in the right place, but at the start of the novel she comes off as surly, sullen, and dense like a kitchen cutting block. She misses completely obvious to everyone social signals and had me rolling my eyes quite a bit. It's really hard to believe that she leads a secret society of so many members since she is mostly lacking any sort of people skills.
Then our hero enters the stage and he's everything Katsa is not. He is amicable, friendly, talkative, and clearly a born leader. And he's also one fighter that can give Katsa a somewhat fair match on the training grounds. Their relationship grows in obvious ways, though of course there are challenges along the way.
The reason I ended up really enjoying this novel is somewhat elusive. Objectively speaking there isn't much to the book's plot. It's much more straightforward than I expected and also has a lot less angst for the characters than I imagined it would. In a way it was a pleasant surprise the author didn't capture and torture the characters in a way I suspected she might.
The writing flows smoothly and it's pleasant to read. I don't think the prose is amazing, but it's definitely on the better end of the spectrum for YA writing. There's just something about the narrative that captured me and kept me reading and thinking about the book. This elusive quality made the book more enjoyable than the sum of its parts and is making me consider picking up other books by Kristin Cashore.