“When a monster stopped behaving like a monster, did it stop being a monster? Did it become something else?
Katsa lives in a world where some people are Graced with different abilities, be that playing the piano, predicting the weather, or in Katsa’s case killing. Her ability has made her a pawn for her uncle – King Randa of the Middluns – to use against his enemies. Punishing them or killing them whenever they end up on his bad side.
To combat the way of life that she has come to hate, Katsa sets up a council that spans the seven kingdoms to help those that need it and combat the greed of their rulers. When she is thrown into the mystery of a kidnapped Liend royal who was enemy of no one, she is pushed to unravel the layers of deceit that spans across the entire seven kingdoms.
And Katsa discovers her Grace may not be as simple as they all thought.
This review will contain spoilers so read at your own risk!
This book had been sitting on my To Be Read list for quite some time before I finally got round to reading it this February. I was intrigued by the synopsis about a kickass heroine struggling to deal with her Grace and the layer of mystery and conflict that it presented. Though I enjoyed this book it was not the story I had been lead to believe it was. To me it is less a plot driven fantasy novel and more a tale of Katsa’s journey to self-discovery with a healthy dolloping of romance.
The opening of the novel sees Katsa rescues Tealiff – father of the Lenid King and is instantly intriguing. Its action packed and leaves the reader with a lot of questions that spurs us to read on to find out more. However, the rest of the novel is very focused on Katsa’s quickly developing relationship to love interest Po – who seems to have a Graced ability like her own (without the killing part) and the plot seems to take a back seat.
As Katsa and Po’s relationship grows through their mutual enjoyment of kicking the crap out of each other, because no one else can even get a shot in, we also get a more detailed look into Katsa’s character. She comes across as very strong willed and determined, and her horror at having to carry out King Randa’s punishments shows she has a heart somewhere within her hard exterior. Despite all her good points, she seems to (at least in the beginning) have a hard time seeing things from other peoples perspectives. When it is revealed that Po’s Grace is not what she thought, and is rather an ability to read people thoughts and sense the presence of people and everything around him, for a while Katsa is blind to the reason that Po had to hide his true nature. That he fears being used and outcast by the people he loves because he can read them. You would’ve thought because this is so similar to what is happening to her that she would be able to understand. But she is stubborn and can only see that Po lied to her and used his ability to read her mind without her permission. Even though he has no control over his Grace. Here she only seems concerned with her own feelings and not anyone else’s which left me feeling rather distant from her, as to me Po deception was perfectly understandable.
When the plot finally does kick in, Katsa leaves her Uncles’ court determined to be her own person and let no one own her again, and she and Po – who she had forgiven set out to Monsea. There they go to confront the One-Eyed king, who turns out to be Graced. Which isn’t too much of a surprise since he’s missing an eye, and eyes are the way that people tell if they are Graced – Katsa has one blue and one green, Po’s are sliver and gold.
They spend an awful lot of time in the woods running from the King’s guards and trying to survive, while simultaneously exploring their feelings for one another and Katsa fear of giving herself to another person. Especially one that can read her. We see more of their relationship than we do of the threat. Which is a shame because the One-Eyed King’s Graced ability is to have anyone believe what he says and do what he says, even through stories told by others, and it would’ve created an intriguing conflict to go into more detail with.
Once the King’s Grace has been discovered, there is more focus on the character again rather than a balance between that and plot. It is in the woods with Po and Princess Bitterblue (the One-Eyed King’s daughter who fled his monstrous rule) that Katsa starts to figure out what her Grace really is – survival. Katsa cannot just kill people with ease, but she can run farther, last on less sleep and food than others can, order her body to wake and sleep and take a beating without getting hurt. It is a nice twist that the thing Katsa believed herself a monster for was actually keeping her safe and alive, as well as her friends.
Throughout the rest of the novel the focus is Katsa as she discovers more about herself as she and Bitterblue trek through the harshest part of the mountains to escape the King. It is as if we are watching to see how far she can push herself before her body finally gives in. This is why I think that the blurb was rather misleading, as to me this is more a book about Katsa’s survival and her journey to self-acceptance, rather than a book about defeating an evil King. This takes up most of the novel whereas the final confrontation with the King barely lasts a whole chapter. And of course her acceptance of herself also helps her not to be scared of giving into her feelings for Po. As being with him does not mean that she is giving up herself, as it is ultimately her choice and no one else’s, and Po is extremely understanding of her boundaries which also seems to help.
On the whole, I did enjoy this novel. The idea of the Graceling’s is a brilliant one and one that first drew me to this novel, and I liked the mention of other skills people had been Graced with. Oh and there’s a few feminist ideals thrown in there which is always nice to come across. It was a nice light read after dealing with so many heavy University texts. Yet it was not what I expected.
I would recommend Graceling to people looking for a fantasy romance novel with heavy focus on the characters, rather than someone looking for a novel with a complex and detailed plot.