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Book Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling (Graceling Realm, #1)Graceling by Kristin Cashore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Published in october 2008 by Harcourt
Buy: Amazon

Goodreads Summary

Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight – she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.

When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po’s friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace – or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away…

My Review

This books was truly wonderful. I absolutely adored it (despite the problematic feminist agenda behind it).

This book centres around a young female heroine who has been ‘graced’, in other words you have two mismatched coloured eyes and an exceptional talent. In the case of our female lead, Katsa, she has the exceptional talent to kill (or to survive as we learn later on in the book). Katsa is a fighter who is unbeatable and unconquerable in strength and talent. She could take down a room of armed men before the first man to throw a knife has even batted an eyelid. We see her constantly adjusting and being challenged and it was somewhat refreshing to see a lead female so in tune with her capabilities and ability to take no one’s shit. I suppose it helped that everyone was scared shitless of her?

I loved loved loved the love story throughout this book. Po was charming and sweet and that extra dash of smart-assery (and maybe he was a bit of a two-dimensional doormat at times but that didn’t bother me). Katsa was the focus. Po’s sense of character never needed to outweigh or push the female lead to the sidelines. The outcome of their relationship left my heart in a squeeze and dying for more because I want to see how the remainder of their journey play out. How does Po’s mum react to his new ‘condition’? How does Randa react to Katsa’s new demands?

My only distaste with this book was this ideal of femininity or feminism that Cashore proposed, which is something I’ve noticed frequently in books written about a ‘strong’ female lead. This notion that to have long hair, wear make-up and dresses and to make yourself beautiful somehow detracts from your strength. Femininity becomes a weakness and it’s something I strongly disagree with. I understand Katsa’s desire to not wear dresses when she’s traipsing about on horseback and fighting for her survival. I see the practicality in that. But that strong distaste to putting on a nice dress for a formal dinner somehow transforms her from a badass killing machine to a pathetic, superficial housewife and that’s an extremely problematic idea to push forward.

I admired Katsa’s strong stance on refusing to marry and to not have children despite the flawed logic behind it:

“If she took Po as her husband, she would be making promises about a future she couldn’t yet see. For once she became his wife, she would be his forever. And, no matter how much freedom Po gave her, she would always know that it was a gift. Her freedom would be not be her own; it would be Po’s to give or to withhold. That he never would withhold it made no difference. If it did not come from her, it was not really hers.”

Cashore presents this idea that to marry is to lose your freedom, your control is passed along to your spouse. In my opinion, that’s a completely old-fashioned and (for what some call a ‘feminist’ novel is utterly) unfeminist ideal. Po has only ever admired Katsa’s strength of body and character.

Cashore’s intent to empower Katsa only ever falls flat in a number of places throughout this book. She does, however, present us with a wonderful friendship between two young females who battle for their own survival and do it without a single man in sight. These are your two ‘I’m not taking a single piece of your shit because I can get my own motherfucking shit done’ ladies. This is the representation of feminism that I wanted to see. This appreciation and support amongst women, celebrating each others successes with no bullshit. Katsa teaches Bitterblue to fight because although she may never need it, she deserves the right to know how to defend herself without relying on a knight in shining armour to arise and protect her.

Ultimately, the pacing was right and the writing was strong. The world building itself was pretty on point. This is a must-read and I highly recommend everyone read it.

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