"In a world where people born with an exceptional skill, known as a Grace, are both feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. Feared by the court and shunned by those her own age, the darkness of her Grace casts a heavy shadow over Katsa’s life. Yet she remains defiant: when the King of Lienid’s father is kidnapped she investigates, and stumbles across a mystery. Who would want to kidnap the old man, and why? And who was the extraordinary Graced man whose fighting abilities rivalled her own?
The only thing Katsa is sure of is that she no longer wants to kill. The intrigue around this kidnapping offers her a way out – but little does she realise, when she takes it, that something insidious and dark lurks behind the mystery. Something spreading from the shadowy figure of a one-eyed king.."
Graceling was such an unexpectedly beautiful read. It completely blew me away. I didn't anticipate enjoying it because I've heard a lot of how formulaic, 'lite' and romancey it is, and I'm someone who's happiest with a Martin or a Sanderson in my hands. I like Rothfuss and Brett. I don't like Twilight. But...I gave it a go at the request of a couple of friends. And I could not put it down.
Yes, in fairness, it is very lite, and in terms of Fantasy it's predictable and hugely unoriginal. But the thing is, it genuinely doesn't matter, because there's a warmth and a spark to Cashore's writing that draws you in as a reader and refuses to let you go. I can't even define what it is...she offers that connection with her characters that has you unable to put the book down until you know they're going to be OK. It's a very simple story, but it demonstrates how sometimes simple really is beautiful. It reminded me of the kind of stories I was told as a child, proper old fashioned Good Vs Evil tales, you know how they're going to end but you still have fun with them along the way, and there are still moments where you catch yourself panicking that something awful is going to happen to your favourite.
It's nice to read Fantasy with a strong female lead, and although it's one who does fall for the male lead at least she's not one of those simpering girly girls who can't function without thoughts of a handsome husband and all that jazz. Katsa is the tough, tomboy type and I found that refreshing.
In a lot of ways she made me think of Katniss from The Hunger Games. The skill with the bow, the urge to protect Bitterblue at all costs, and the different types of love she feels for Raffin and Po. The unlikely fight for survival against overwhelming odds, and the moment you think you're safe turning to the moment everything falls apart. I thought there were a lot of parallels between the two. I'd hazard a guess that anyone who enjoyed The Hunger Games would also enjoy Graceling.
As a Fantasy novel it's far from perfect. The plot is old, and suffers from several glaring holes if you do anything other than cast a quick glance at it. You're not going to want to think too much around it or it'll fall apart. If you can just accept things for what they are, and sit back and enjoy it...it's gorgeous. It shouldn't be, but it is! A guilty pleasure for me, in a nutshell. And I will definitely be adding Bitterblue to my pile.