Friday, September 14, 2012


by Kristin Cashore
Houghton Mifflin | 2007

I regularly bemoan the fact that I don't enjoy fantasy writing. I say bemoan because I know how much some people love it and that there are some really talented writers in this genre that I don't appreciate enough. Occasionally, a book comes along that lures me over into this genre; Graceling is one. I first read it in 2009 or so and just re-read it for class.

Katsa hails from the Middluns and she's graced. She has the mark--two different colored eyes--and her grace allows her to fight and kill with an acuity that makes her a commodity. Gracelings in the Middluns, regardless of their special skill, are feared. Katsa's uncle Randa, the King, has appropriated her life and uses her to punish citizens who have crossed him, sending her to maim, threaten, or kill them. When she winds up in the middle of a plot which involves kidnapping the father of the Queen of Lienid and rescues the old man, she meets his youngest grandson, Po, who is also graced. But Po is Lienid, and they revere their graced brethren. But alas, Po's grace is so threatening to others, he keeps it a secret from everyone but his mother and grandfather.

Even though Katsa has declared she will never marry and never bear children, she falls in love with Po as they depart Randa's court and work together to rescue Bitterblue, the Princess of Monsea and daughter of the evil King, Leck. Katsa also learns, through trusting Po like she's never dared trust another person that her grace isn't what she thought it was--it's actually far more nuanced and more powerful than she thought.

One of the most awesome parts of this book is Katsa's resolve to remain single, which Cashore shores up continually with passages like this one: "She couldn't have him, and there was no mistaking it. She could never be his wife. She could not steal herself back from Randa only to give herself away again--belong to another person, be answerable to another person, build her very being around another person. No matter how she loved him...She loved Po. She wanted Po. And she could never be anyone's but her own."And, true to her word and desire, she remains her own--managing to both love and live freely (unlike another favorite hero of mine with a name that starts with "Kat").

Graceling is the first in a trilogy, called The Graceling Realm, with the other two as companion books rather than sequels. The second book, Fire, follows another girl and shares one main character from Graceling, and the third book focuses on Bitterblue, now Queen of Monsea. All three have been met with critical acclaim (check out the NYT Review of Books from this past summer). Kristin graduated from the Simmons Center for the Study of Children's Literature where I'm a student, so perhaps you'll think me biased. You'd be wrong, though. She's not good--she's great. She writes these epic books (Graceling is 471 pages) longhand on legal pads and then edits them by hand as well. This astounds me, considering the intricate plots and details that link together to unwind into the brilliant stories.

Do you consider yourself to be uninterested in fantasy? Join the club. And then go get Graceling.

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