Graceling is set in a world in which some people are graced with gifts. They might be as pleasurable as the grace of fine cooking, or as deadly as the one that Katsa has; she is graced with the ability to kill. Because of this grace, she becomes the tool of a corrupt king who sends her to torture or assassinate whomever he wishes. She's not exactly pleased with this, and the story of Graceling is not only an adventure but also the story of Katsa coming to understand and master her own strength.
This was an excellent read. It was gripping, it was exciting, and it presented a very unique character. Katsa is often very angry, and the way that Kristin Cashore showed Katsa's anger and frustration was expertly done. Because of her personality, Katsa could have come off as irritating, but I thought she was fascinating. I also loved the fact that Katsa is not a typical girlie girl -- she is, in fact, one of the butchest characters in fiction I've read about lately. She's especially butch in the last part of the book, which involves her battling the forces of nature and fighting mountain lions while rescuing a princess. Seriously! Katsa kicks some ass for sure.
However, she's not a lesbian (sadly). Katsa falls in love with a sexy prince, and that romance is quite intense. I must admit, though, that romance was my least favorite part of the book. Yes, that's partly because I felt that Katsa really should have been gay dammit! But OK, I'll grant you that some girls who kick ass can be straight.
And Katsa's straight but definitely does not fall into the category of typical straight heroine who wants to marry the prince. In fact, she straightforwardly says that she will never marry -- women in Katsa's world are often forced into arranged marriages and, once married, are expected to bend to the will of their husbands. So I think it's absolutely right that she declares she will never marry. I was shocked to find that the first two reviews on Amazon called out this fact as a warning sign.
Heidi Anne Heiner wrote:
I highly recommend the novel but I have to do so with a warning. If it matters to you, the book has a rather anti-marriage message in it which fits the main character's personality, but will be the most problematic element for some readers.
And Unity Dienes, in a review titled "Loved it! But conservative parents take note," wrote:
Also, and this is probably the "biggie" for conservative parents, Katsa rejects the concept of marriage, and there are several times when one or another character implies that it is a yoke that will force a couple to stay together regardless of their actual feelings. Being lovers is somewhat extolled as demonstrating their real trust and commitment to one another, since they are together without being forced, and love each other enough to set each other free if the love fades.
This book may actually allow parents to discuss these themes with teens, who need to decide where they stand on sex and marriage. However, some parents may decide just to skip this one if they don't want to deal with the issues.
OK, given that Proposition 8 passed in California, I guess I should not be so shocked that people are trying to police traditional marriage even in book reviews on Amazon. But I am shocked. I mean, come on. How many books out there are about young women who pretty much only want to get married to the man of their dreams? Have you noticed the entire genre of romance fiction? Not to mention chick lit (which I admit I do like from time to time), and countless books about teen girls and their freaking boyfriends?
I'm sorry, but one book in which a girl -- who clearly sees how marriage in her society is a yoke around a woman's neck -- refuses to be someone's chattel, is not only perfectly acceptable but frankly, I think every girl should read it. Yes, I believe in marriage, but I do not believe that traditional heterosexual marriage should be championed as the best and only relationship that every girl should aspire to.
Do I sound upset? Yes. Because Graceling was an unusual book, and it was unusual because it was about a girl who stood up for herself and rejected what EVIL men wanted from her. Would it truly be better for Katsa to see how terrible marriage was in her society and yet still want to be a part of it? I'm glad she doesn't buy into the fantasy of (straight) marriage.
So, even though Katsa is straight (hell, because she's straight), I recommend Graceling highly. I don't come across too many adventures with female heroines who don't like to wear dresses and who don't fall in love with vampires. Go and read it; it's a wonderful story with clear and elegant writing, admirably told.