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Saturday, September 27, 2008

“Graceling” by Kristin Cashore (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Official Kristin Cashore Blog
Order “GracelingHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt

Kristin Cashore's debut novel “Graceling”, follows Kasta, a young woman skilled with the Grace of Killing. The grace showed itself to her at the age of eight, and since then she has been used by the king of Randa—her uncle—as his “secret weapon”. As a weapon, Kasta was used to ensure terror throughout the country and keep various surrounding countries scared of Randa. All the while, Kasta is struggling with herself as to what she wants to do with her Grace—use it for good or for the evil of a king. A Graced one, as we learn, must report to the king, and if they are useful enough, they are to be in the service of that king. The majority of kings in this world use Graces for their own advancement in the standing of their countries.

The novel's storyline is primarily focused around the kidnapping of a high ranking member of a neighboring country's noble family. After Kasta rescues the noble on a Council mission, we are introduced to Po, the youngest son of the king of Lienid, who is in search of his kidnapped grandfather.

A relationship forms between Kasta and Po, who start out on a mission to find answers as to who and why the kidnapping took place. A twist in the adventure leads us to the mysterious king of Monsea who is loved not only by his subjects but by all seven surrounding kingdoms. His involvement makes for a surprising turn of events.

Great imagery, a cast of a half dozen characters, and evil doings lace “Graceling”, which is an adventure story alongside a coming-of-age tale of a girl graced with the ability to kill…

A major strength of the writing is the imagery presented throughout the novel. The book is filled with very vivid descriptions of almost everything from castles, landscapes, courts, and the journeys that the characters go on. In the beginning this imagery was very helpful as it gave the readers a great way to visualize a new fantasy world, which I found captivating. We learn all about the land—past and present—the people, and the kings. However, as the book continues the descriptions become almost tedious. There were times when there seemed to be an overwhelming amount of detail. For example, Kristin doesn’t just describe the land but the feel of the ground and the colors of every leaf, bush and blade of grass. There were also times when we would be getting a description of an area that we had just read a couple pages back, making it almost feel as if descriptions were being used as page fillers.

Along with imagery, there’s also the way that Cashore develops her characters which is another strength of the book. We read the story through Kasta's third-person perspective which is a great way for us to form a bond with her, and really feel not only her emotions, but see the thought processes that go into some of the choices that she makes. Even though this is the way that the majority of the story is told, we also occasionally get a first-person point of view into Kasta’s thoughts about people or a situation. There were some flaws with this back and forth flip-flopping between the point-of-views as it sometimes felt as though we had to reread about a situation we had already heard about. So a huge amount of time would be spent looking at a situation and then we would have the character overanalyze what to do about said situation. One or the other for various situations would have been sufficient.

It's hard to have a great story where the reader does not become attached to a character along the way so being able to bond with Cashore’s characters was a real plus. However, I feel that the character development starts to slip the further along we get in the book and the more we are introduced to different people. So even though we have a great bond with Kasta, and even Po the prince, there are some characters that I felt we could have spent a little more time with. For instance, there is Bitterblue, a princess who appears in the later part of the book and becomes a main character spending a lot of time with Kasta. Unfortunately, we know almost nothing about Bitterblue and she's a very flat character with little personality or emotion. I felt this way because of how closely we bonded with Kasta as a character, and anything less intense seems as though the character wasn’t developed enough.

Another aspect of the characters was their interaction with one another. There is so much time spent getting to know the characters them selves, that when it comes to developing a relationship between characters it feels rushed or not very well described. As a result, there were times when I was often left wondering why a character was with someone else or why they would make that decision. Also, the conversations between characters were very stilted or short. Personally, I wish less time had been devoted to the descriptions of the land and countries, and more effort applied to the character interaction. After all, it’s a shame that we have all of these great characters that we spend time getting to know, and so little character interaction between them.

The evil villain of the story, the king of Monsea, only appears twice in the story. This is another aspect that could have been developed more as we are left with vague reasons as to why he is so evil. In fact, very little is even said about this villain at all in the story. Without this villain we would have just been left with a novel about a journey because a lot of time is spent wondering, who could have done this and why. We later find out who and why but there is very little time spent on the answers and it feels as though we have missed out on something.

With all this character development and imagery there is a slight weakness—the flow of the story. “Graceling” started out as a page turner, but then it feels as though we hit a wall. The book just slowed down, nothing new happened with our characters, no information was introduced and it seemed as if the author was just repeating what we read pages before.

Additionally, there were two other weaknesses that I saw with “Graceling”. First was the classification of what type of fantasy novel the book was. It starts off almost as an action adventure, which I was excited for because the main character was a fierce girl with the Grace to kill and I was waiting for some kick-butt action. Instead, the book turns into a coming-of-age story as Kasta is struggling to figure out if she can branch out on her own and not use her grace for evil. We also have the kidnapping storyline. Then all of a sudden, the book changes its focus. So although we're still trying to find answers to the kidnapping, we are now presented with a major fantasy love story. Love is a part of growing up and it would have fit nicely in the novel, but it feels as though it overtakes the story. Kasta's thoughts and actions are all based on why she loves this man, what she will do for him, and how conflicted she is with falling in love. Also, after the romance is introduced it seems as if the book slows down with very little happening to our travelers aside from a burst of slight action here and there.

The second weakness was the unevenness between the different storylines and how they were resolved like the kidnapping which took up the majority of the book and was worked out in only one or two paragraphs. Considering the book's main plotline revolved around the kidnapping, I felt that more of an explanation was needed. Due to the lack of explanation, I was left a little confused as to how the plot so quickly jumped from the kidnapping to a different theme and I found myself wondering if I missed what happened with the kidnapping or if it was even mentioned as to why this was done. It felt like there were too many ideas thrown together and we needed to finish one and just hop to the next idea without a real explanation. Perhaps a little less time spent on the romance aspect and more on resolving some of the themes that started out the story would have been better.

Overall, I was pleased with the way that the book turned out even if I was surprised by the focus on the romantic aspect and would have loved to see more action/adventure. So if you’re looking for a lot of action this might not be the type of book for you. I would also have loved to learn more about the Graces and how a person knows exactly what their Grace is. All that is said is that they know, but I wish to understand more about that and what the difference between a graced person's skill is and just a regular person's. Maybe these topics will be explored in future novels.

Author's first novels are always a delight to read. There is little known about how the writer will turn out—what their writing style will be like, how will the flow of the book feel, and how the characters are developed. Thankfully, Kristin Cashore'sGraceling” is a great start by a developing writer and I definitely look forward to seeing this writer grow with future novels as she shows tremendous potential…

NOTE: October 1, 2008 marks the North American Hardcover publication via
Harcourt Children’s Books—although the novel has already been available for a few weeks now ;) The UK version (See Inset) will be published by Gollancz on January 22, 2009. “Fire”, a prequel to “Graceling”, will be published by Harcourt Children’s Books in October 2009.


shaunesay said...

Sounds great, I'll have to keep this one in mind! Thanks for the review!

CGrogg said...

I just finished this book, I loved it! I have been trying to find something that could even compare to how much I enjoyed the Catching Fire series, and this definetly is close! This is a girl power book, with fanatasy, romance, love, deciding who you are, and proteting those who cant protect themselves. But what happens if there is someone who just might be stronger? Strength is not always in the physical.

A must read!

Anonymous said...

It sounds ok

Anonymous said...

sounds cool

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