Lady Katsa of the Middluns leads a double life of sorts. She is a Graceling, which means she was born with a Grace, an incredible natural talent– in her case, the ability to kill before her victim even knows what’s happening. By day, King Randa, her uncle, uses her to force the people of his kingdom to do his bidding; by night she leads the Council, a secret organization that works to undo the deeds of Randa and the other corrupt kings of her world. When an inexplicable plot comes to the Council’s attention, and brings with it Prince Po, an enigmatic fellow Graceling with a personal stake in the matter, Katsa is forced to choose who she really is as she attempts to right a bigger wrong than she’s ever faced before.
My biggest complaint about the book is that Katsa hit an awfully lot of the cliché action-heroine checkmarks. She hates dresses and formal events, she’s annoyed by her hair and wants to chop it all off, she tends to dislike men, she’s excessively tough and very emotionally closed-off, and she cringes away from romantic commitment and the thought of being a wife/mother. There’s nothing at all wrong with any of these things or even all of them put together (except maybe the emotional hyper-guardedness), except that I’ve heard it too many times before, and it’s awfully extreme. I want to hear more stories about girls like Cammie from Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls books— incredibly strong, brave, and purposeful, and yet also occasionally aware of and even concerned about the appearance of her hair, and susceptible now and then to attractive or charming qualities in a human of the male gender.
So as I first started reading Graceling, I was afraid it was going to be a total re-run. And I was also a teeny bit bothered every now and then by the voice of the writing, when it risked being affected in its old-fashionedness.
But things started improving as soon as Po showed up. Po is a lot more Katsa’s equal than anyone she’s ever known, and so he softens her me-against-the-world attitude and makes her more rounded and relatable. And their romance was adorable. It carried the whole thing for me. I’ve read some reviews that say Po is too perfect, and I see where they’re coming from. But I still enjoyed them together.
And furthermore, it was very successful as an action story. It’s full of plot twists, suspense, and dramatic action sequences. I was always gasping or exclaiming or biting my nails. So romance and grippingness are both thumbs-ups.
I also really liked the evolution of how Katsa saw herself; from believing herself in the beginning to be a mindless monster, to realizing that she can choose what she does with her powers and her life, that dangerous forces don’t have to be inherently evil, it all depends on who controls them. I think it’s a message that can be applied to a lot of different things. And the villains of the story fit into the same idea. They and Katsa and her friends show the two faces of power, power used for good and power used for evil.
Something happened at the end that really freaked me out, because I have the emotional stability of one of those Jane Austen-style society ladies who swoons if somebody walks toward her too quickly and has to be revived with smelling salts and gentle fanning with a hand-fan. But it turned out okay enough in the end that I was okay with it.
So in summary, now that I’ve finished Graceling, I’d say I liked it, but didn’t love it.
This book had me on the edge of my seat enough that I think it deserves an All-Nighter (for grippingness).