Review: Graceling

Not a traditional reader of YA, but a lover of fantasy, had me plopping this book onto my hold list at the library.  Honestly, I did that so long ago that I had forgotten what book I had put on hold when they called to tell me it was available.  Before I prematurely begin my opinion of it let us start with  synopsis:

Katsa is Graced and indeed a thug, however reluctant she is to do this job.  Being Graced means she is ostracized from her people.  The world does not accept the gifted readily never mind those whose gift it is to be so completely lethal with so little effort.  The notion of power over one’s actions and subservience to another are addressed in the story as her growing conscience begins to demand her own rebellion from the King.  While women are relegated to traditional roles in her world Katsa’s gifts keeps her at least partially in the world of men.  Expectations of marrying and bringing men heirs are still upon her even though it is clear she shrugs these notions aside.  Her work is where she finds value for herself.  Not the orders of the king, but in a secret council comprised of mere citizens across the seven kingdoms in her land who act in people’s interests.  This is a way Katsa keeps her humanity amidst being ordered to mete out excessive punishments upon the citizens of her kingdom.

Prince Po is also Graced, a fighter she took on while in the middle of a mission for her council, and eventually becomes her friend.  They begin a quest together, one that becomes more dangerous than they anticipate as well as evolves into something far more.  In his kingdom the gifted are revered and treasured; no shame is to be had from this birthright.  As a result of this he does not fear Katsa, but embraces and appreciates her attributes while encouraging her to do the same.  Each day of their travels to a far off land, one in which they expect to find the reasons for a mysterious kidnapping, they become closer and eventually become lovers.

When they reach their destination answers are found and the reasons behind rumors and strange actions of a King are revealed they find that victory is all but impossible.  Katsa’s Grace is useless while the truth of Po’s keeps the stakes high and the chance of victory very low.

Lots of good stuff in there, but my main complaint is this:  If it’s going to be marketed for fourteen year olds then why is the sentence structure only as complicated as a Roald Dahl book?  Nothing against Dahl, but I was reading his books when I was about eight.  EIGHT.  Let’s have a look at the opening lines shall we?

In these dungeons the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind.  One that had so far proven correct, as Oll’s maps tended to do.  Katsa ran her hand along the cold walls and counted doors and passageways as she went.

I admit to almost chucking the book after reading that.  What saved it for me was the political intrigue – not the writing.  Everywhere in the book the author tells and doesn’t show.  Just like above.  I have no idea of the experience of the character.  Not really.  Do I feel the walls?  See them?  Smell them?  No.  I was told they’re cold.  Woopty freakin’ do.  For all the time spent on discussing the scenery as the characters travel not once do I feel it.

This includes the physical aspects of the relationship between Katsa and Po.  Although I do admit the sex is pretty well written about, just unnecessary in the grand scheme of the story.  [For those who thought Meyer was graphic this book is not for you or your children; for those who thought Meyer wussed out on the sex in Breaking Dawn this is slightly better.]  Truth is the book in subject matter was appropriate for older kids, but the writing was so far below what fourteen year olds should be capable of reading that I can’t help but feel this type of book only further contributes to the noted dumbing down that’s been discussed as a problem in recent years.

When complex matters such as politics, notions of power and responsibility are addressed the lessons are better conversed about when the story doesn’t preach so much as illustrates.  The foundations of all these issues were ignored and instead addressed superficially leaving the reader with some notions of good/bad but not why they might be so.  I can’t help but resent a book that seems to want people to question authority or why they might do what they do and simply doesn’t encourage the thinking necessary to do so adequately.

I can’t say this is a must read for anyone other than those who really, really, really want to check out a fantasy book with characters who are only slightly more fleshed out than Bella Swan in Twilight.  Am I bummed I spent the time reading it?  Absolutely not.  I was engaged in the political intrigue and mysterious King so I quite easily read through it.  Still, the taste on my palate was that of a McDonald’s hamburger when what I really wanted was one from Red Robin (really I’d prefer Plan B, but for the sake of genre expectations Red Robin works best).


11 responses to “Review: Graceling

  • Laura Marcella

    This is on my to-read list! I’ve heard mostly positive things about it. Thanks for your review!

  • Carol Kilgore

    I don’t read much YA or fantasy, but this sounds great for those who do. As for readability, until stronger reading skills are taught at an earlier age, my opinion is writers have to deal with the readers they have. There will always be stronger and weaker readers but better early focused teaching could raise the levels of each. Unfortunately, I know some 14-year olds who still don’t like to read anything without pictures.

    • Linton

      Touche, Carol, and maybe we are beating the same old pour dead horse that must be in shreds by now, but the craft our BlogMistress was referring to in taking to task this writer for telling instead of showing has more to do with the author’s laziness than her pitching it to the great unwashed. By showing and not telling the writer can bring the reader more fully into the story no matter how schooled the reader might be. This takes more effort and I read somewhere, and I don’t believe it, that in writing fiction, anything worth telling is worth showing.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Carol – That strikes me as very sad. While I definitely understand where you’re coming from I can’t help but wonder what encouragement there is to read more complex materials if there is simply no need to do so. This story was fun and clever – even has sex – so it’s hard for me to imagine it not doing well even if the grammar was a bit more complex.

  • Linton

    Excellent review, BlogDiva, and I agree with you totally about the craft of, I was going to say many, but it is most writers of fiction. And it is damned near criminal! But maybe we doth criticize too much, I don’t know, for you’ve found value in this book, flawed as it is. My favorite all time novel is Lonesome Dove and Larry McMurty’s sequel Laredo [certainly neither ya material] is damned near as good, and that seems like a miracle. The trip McMurty takes me on is well worth the few craft errors he makes in them.

    I’m not big on fantasy, I don’t know why. All fiction is really fantasy of a sort. My writing tends to push the envelope and with fantasy that envelope if it exists is very large. Maybe I can eventually drag myself into it before I shuffle off this mortal coil. My WIP takes place in post pharo Egypt, even over to Libya and features the last Berber woman-ruled tribe. So how wild is that? I mean I can do whatever I want with it, and do, and still call it historical fiction. Anyway, maybe you can lead me all the way over, BlogDiva, I hope so. But the reading on my plate is falling off the edge and it keeps growing and growing and I’m cursed with being a slow reader.

    Keep up the good work darling. I am becoming your number one fan.


    • kimberlyloomis

      Linton – Thanks! 😀

      Your WIP sounds very, very intriguing. The genre divisions these days baffle me on so many levels I don’t even know where to start that particular conversation. I will say I would love to check that one out!

      As for fantasy I highly recommend Marion Zimmer-Bradley. She is, in my opinion, what fantasy authors should strive to be. Fully fleshed out worlds, characters and with a vocabulary that has me doing double takes sometimes. Sci-Fi (if you’re ever inclined) would be nothing without Heinlein. Seriously. Stranger in a Strange Land was a brilliant work that should make genre writers sit up and aspire to. Not that I’m a snob or anything… Okay, I am. But I’m okay with that.

      My favorite books of all time kind of run the gamut of genre and not. The Road being very high up there along with To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre and Atlas Shrugged. Atlas being the most flawed of the lot.

  • angelafristoe

    Great book review! Despite being a YA writer I read very little of it. The dumbing down you mention is exactly why. I probably would have started skimming the first chapter after those first few lines.
    🙂 Ang

    • kimberlyloomis

      Ang – Yeah, I had my moments of skimming too. If it weren’t for the political intrigue I wouldn’t have bothered finishing it at all. Just makes me wish more editors and authors were willing to make the push for something a bit more, well, highbrow? Although that has a bad connotation… I can’t wait to check out your work based upon your comment alone. 🙂

  • Bookjourney

    I appreciate this review. This is one I have been curious about but undecided if I wanted to read it with all the other books waiting (and waiting) on me.

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