Kristin Cashore’s Graceling

My friend, who will be referred to as Smarty Pants from here on out (I should make it clear that he doesn’t actually behave like a know-it-all unless it concerns me because apparently thirteen years of friendship means he knows everything about me? Psht.), likes to laugh at me because it took me months to find a copy of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling. Obviously it took me months because no one had it in stock, much to my chagrin. I even called him once to complain because I was staring at a bookshelf in Barnes and Noble that had a gap right where Cashore should have been. The thing was I had seen it there a few weeks before so why wasn’t it there when I was out to purchase? Smarty Pants would tell you, and very lovingly reminded me, that it was because every time I want to buy something but decide to wait and think it over before I splurge on it, it disappears. They sell out. Or it goes out of stock never to be seen or heard from again.

I was at a crossroads. Do I keep looking? Do I give in and succumb to the inevitably that the universe did not want me to read this book? I chose the former because nothing can subvert my reading desires. Luckily, my perseverance paid off, and I found it sitting on a shelf at one of the five (yes, five) local Half Price Books. Half Price Books feeds my reading addiction at a relatively low cost, keeping me solvent and sated at the same time. But I digress. I bought that sucker without a moment’s hesitation and then proceeded to not read it for a few more months.

For those of you interested, it should be noted that Smarty Pants was with me and had to point out that it was my own ineptitude that prevented me from finding it earlier because every time he had gone to the bookstore, it had glared at him in many shiny copies. But his opinion doesn’t matter because it’s not like he bought it for me when I wanted it and couldn’t find it.

This is getting long-winded, and I haven’t even started the review. So let’s skip on ahead, shall we? Graceling is another YA novel that is best described by the blurb on the back of the book:

Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.

When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po’s friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away…

Well, this is something new. A protagonist who’s an assassin. Most people would tell you that readers should either love the protagonist or love to hate them. And most protagonists, for me anyway, are ones that I love because they’re great people. But what was Katsa going to be? I like to read books when the blurb has me asking questions and wondering what would happen, and Graceling was one of them.

Katsa was an interesting character for the most part. You think she’s a cold-hearted assassin at first, but within a few pages, you realize that she’s not and would rather be anything other than the king’s thug. That leaves her with a choice: Continue to do the king, her uncle’s, bidding? Or make her own way in the world no matter what the king might do? We can all guess what she chooses, and that’s what makes this book get moving. Graceling sets out to explore Katsa’s development as a person from a somewhat reluctant assassin to a hero.

It would come as no surprise to find that Katsa and Po develop romantic feelings for each other because, as I mentioned in my review for Lament, YA novels like to capitalize on the raging hormones teenagers have. Give them what they want has never been so à propos. I could go into details about their relationship, but I won’t because you should read it for yourself. I will say that it had much more development than Deirdre and Luke’s in Lament, however, it also had a surprising bit to it. That part outraged some, while others cheered. All of which you can read on Goodreads reviews. I was neither outraged, nor was I cheering it on. I was surprised and slightly confused, but I had no intense emotions either way. It is what it is, and that’s ok for the most part.

The part of Graceling that really got to me was the climax and ending. This book is a whopping 471 pages, pretty lengthy for a YA novel. The beginning 410 pages geared me up for an epic climax and denouement that would leave me breathless. (That’s a bit of an exaggeration perhaps, but you get the idea.) But after the 410 pages, the climax came and went like a small breeze you hardly feel, and I was disappointed. The ending wasn’t much better. So I ask, “How could a book that started off so well and even had a fast-paced middle, which is often where books fall flat, lose its steam when it was so close to the end?” My answer: I have no clue. I still don’t understand what happened to the plot (not what the events of the plot were but rather why it fizzled out), and I still feel disappointed. If you’re anything like me, you invest a lot in a book’s characters and the trials and tribulations that are thrown at them. You want the characters you like to succeed and the one’s you hate to fail miserably, floundering in a cesspool of their own creation. And you want it all to happen after building up considerable tension and making the protagonist use every effort they have to overcome the baddies. But in Graceling, the tension was there, and I was ready for something larger than life. It didn’t happen. It came quickly and ended even more quickly. A matter of a few pages and the baddy was defeated without much effort from our protagonist.

That’s too bad really. Katsa had a lot going for her in the beginning. She seemed like a wise assassin and yet naïve in normal things, like boys. They mystified her, and to me, that is pretty realistic for a lot of teenage girls. They think they understand boys, but then one does something  that confuses them, and they take it to their girlfriends to sort out what he meant. Katsa didn’t have that circle of friends. She had her cousin Raffin, but sometimes a girl needs a girl and not a guy friend. We’ve all been there.  For the most part, I liked her. I liked how she was a more complicated character than you sometimes find in YA novels, but I think that set me up for disappointment when it was all said and done.

Graceling should be on your list of books to read but be prepared to be let down by some aspects, especially the last 61 pages. Maybe you won’t be able to make it that far if you have a short attention span, but I say give it a go and see what happens. What’s the worst that could happen? You waste a couple of hours reading before you realize that it’s not your cup of tea. Don’t worry. It won’t kill you. But you’ll be one step closer to discovering what exactly you do like in a book than you were before. Even if I hate a book (which doesn’t happen too often), I don’t regret reading it because each one expands my horizons in one way or another, and life is all about learning and experiencing new things.

Katsa’s development as a character brings this story to life and is the driving force behind it. However, the plot fizzles out in the end, leaving you wondering how such a strong character could be dealt such a flat ending. 6/7*

*See explanation of rating system

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