Thursday, May 22, 2014

Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Series: Graceling Realm #1
Published by Graphia
Pages: 471
Genre: Romance/Fantasy (YA)
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Katsa is the king's niece. Instead of spending her days at leisure, preparing for the next ball or dinner he has to attend, she spends her days being the king's enforcer. If someone betrays the king in any way, Katsa is sent out to make an example of them. Because, you see, Katsa is Graced with killing. She's never met anyone she couldn't best in a fight. She can kill with one blow from her bare hands - as she learnt when she was eight years old.

But when Katsa meets Prince Po, she had no idea how her world would change. Now she's discovering more about her Grace than she ever thought possible, and uncovering a secret that might spell the doom of the world.

There's no shame to crawl when one can't walk.

This book started off really well. There was a curious action-type scene at the start and then, some time afterward, the love interest was introduced. I was just buzzing along with the story, it felt like I was practically flying through it and never having enough time to sit down and read as much as I wanted to. Then I closed in on the halfway point and the romance pretty much got resolved. I soon discovered, that was one of the few things this story had going for it.

With no real romantic tension subplot to keep me interested, I soon realized that all this story was was a journey from point A to point B then an event happened in front of the main characters that made it necessary to turn around and head back past point A to point C and then we had to turn around shortly after doing something there and head near point B to point D.

Really, the second two-thirds of the book was nothing but one long, protracted journey. Hardly anything even happened during the journey - it wasn't as though the bad guys were chasing them and they were fighting every few pages. I hate 'endless journey' type stories and there was one reason and one reason only that I didn't skim more than a few pages.

The characters.

I love the people in this book. No, seriously, love them. Katsa is just so plain awesome and a tortured soul. It's great that she's such a tomboy and I'm glad to see a young woman in a fantasy setting that isn't crazy about wearing dresses. She does have some Mary Sue tendencies, but she's not perfect. She makes too many bad decisions to be perfect.

Po (I'd say 'thankfully this is a nickname', but his given name is even sillier) is such a sweetheart. I heard wonderful things about him before I started the book and was actually a little concerned that he'd be just like so many other guys I've come across in YA. But he wasn't. I'm so glad to see a leading man in YA not be a jerk.

Bitterblue is so darn cute I just wanted to hug her. And Raffin... Raffin, who I don't have enough words for how much I loved, absolutely loved him. (Because blue hair is cool.) My heart broke a little when I discovered neither of the sequels were about him.

Honestly though, sometimes this book felt...bipolar. The first half was pretty typical light fantasy fare. It had its romance and bouts of hilarious humor and just felt pretty typical. The second half, things took a decidedly darker turn (an 'on screen' death, talking of torturing animals and people, most disturbing though were the strong hints of a character engaging in pedophilia) with essentially zero romance and very little humor. And the 'endless journey'. I don't mind 'dark fantasy' but I do like my books to stay internally consistent. For me, I actually had to spend time getting acclimated to the shift in tone of the book.

Finally, to me the world really wasn't anything special. I really got a 'rival warlords' feeling from the kings. I also got the feeling that they were almost universally creeps. Looking at the map, I couldn't believe that it took a night of hard riding to cover a distance that couldn't even have held the thin side of a matchstick.

This was a slow book - especially the second half. In no part of it did it have much action or fights, but at least the first half had a romance to keep me entertained. The second half didn't have much to break up the slowness or the slow journey. Everything about it was very anti-climactic.