Retro Friday: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I can’t believe I’ve never featured Kristin Cashore’s books here on the blog. She only has two books out, Graceling and Fire, but she’s already on my list of auto-buy authors because both books are awesome. I think I never reviewed her books because I felt that they got enough attention from the blogosphere. But I’m determined to write reviews for all the books included in my list of favorites so here we go.

Here’s the summary from Kristin Cashore’s website:

Graceling is the story of Katsa, who has been able to kill people with her bare hands since she was eight. Katsa lives in the seven kingdoms, where very occasionally, a person is born with an extreme skill called a Grace. Gracelings are feared and exploited in the seven kingdoms, and none moreso than Katsa, who’s expected to do the dirty work of torture and punishment for her uncle, King Randa. But then she meets a mysterious stranger named Po, who is also a Graced fighter and the first person ever to challenge her in a fight. The two form a bond, and each discovers truths they never imagined about themselves, each other, and a terrible danger that is spreading slowly through the seven kingdoms.

Graceling was published back in 2008, a few years before I started the blog and I remember I got the recommendation for it from Sounis. I was so excited to read it but it wasn’t initially available in local bookstores so I asked a friend to get a copy for me from the States and I’m glad she said yes. Graceling became one of my favorite discoveries that year. Gracelings are humans who have a highly specialized skilled called a Grace. Graces come in all forms – it can be as simple as being Graced as a cook to as unusual as Katsa’s Grace of fighting. All Gracelings have mismatched eyes – Katsa has one green eye and one blue. That’s the only way they know a child is a Graceling, through his or her eyes and they never know what the Grace is until it manifests itself in some way. Katsa discovers her Grace when she accidentally kills a man when she was just a young girl.

Katsa is the kind of YA fantasy heroine that I enjoy reading about. Strong female protagonists for the win! Katsa’s physically strong, she could probably kill using just her pinky, but she’s also an emotionally complex character. She reminds me of characters in books by Robin McKinley, Sherwood Smith and Tamora Pierce. If you’re a fan of those three authors and you’ve never read this book then I highly suggest that you get a copy as soon as you can. Katsa’s uncle, King Randa, takes advantage of her fighting skills by employing her as his own personal thug. At the start of the book, Katsa really believes that she’s nothing more than a thug even though she hates doing her uncle’s dirty work. She doesn’t believe she’s capable of building relationships so she keeps people at arm’s length. As she learns more about herself and her Grace, Katsa also starts to trust other people. I was totally on board the romance as well, I didn’t think it was instant love and I liked that they were friends first before they were romantically involved.

I remember that Graceling was pretty hyped the year that it came out. I had high expectations after all the trouble that I went through to get a copy and I wasn’t disappointed. Graceling has everything that I look for in my YA fantasy reads: a unique world that I can get lost in, a court setting with political intrigue, characters who change and develop throughout the course of the book and relationships that take time to form. Writing this review has reminded me that I should read more epic fantasy, I think I’ve been reading more contemporary novels this year. Fire is also an amazing book but in a different way and I’m planning to write a review for that as well. I seriously cannot wait for Bitterblue to be published, I’m going to pre-order that as soon as there’s a release date.

Other reviews:
See Michelle Read
Angieville
By Singing Light
One More Page
Good Books and Good Wine