Desert Isle Keeper
On the one hand, I want to describe the intricate plot of Graceling so you’ll understand just how captivating this book is. On the other hand, I can’t bear to spoil even the few earliest twists and deny you the experience of learning them firsthand. So please, just make life easy for me and go read this book.
In the Seven Kingdoms, some people are born “Graced,” or in possession of special gifts, which range from the useful (cooking) to the impractical (tree climbing) to the problematic: Katsa is Graced with killing. All Graced people belong to the kings to use as they see fit, and Katsa has been trained as an enforcer by her royal uncle, who forces her to break arms and worse to keep his underlings in line. To borrow a phrase, Katsa is the Brute Squad. While she can’t imagine defying her uncle outright, she blows off steam by using her Grace for secret missions of justice and peace. On one such mission, she rescues an imprisoned noble, and encounters another Graced fighter, a prince named Greening Grandemalion, who understandably goes by the nickname Po. The prisoner was Po’s grandfather. This meeting causes Katsa to start asking questions about her obedience to her uncle, and also why Po’s harmless old grandfather was a prisoner in the first place.
Graceling is pure, unadulterated book crack. You promise yourself one more chapter at 10 PM, and suddenly you look up and it’s one in the morning. And at that point, what’s the harm in one more chapter? Don’t be too hard on yourself. I did the same thing. The plot barrels along (in ways which, as stated, I hesitate to describe), each chapter bringing new reveals about the characters, the setting, and the grandfather plot. The action sequences are exciting and tense. And the villain! Authors have thrown blood, guts, and gore at me without causing one tenth the queasy horror and frustrated outrage that this PG-13 villain made me feel. Another reason I couldn’t bear to go to sleep was that I couldn’t relax knowing that villain was still at large.
It’s impossible to read a book about a temperamental super-fighter named Katsa and her thoughtful love interest Po without comparing them to the more-famous Katniss and Peeta. First, both books were published in 2008, so there’s no question of originality. But second, Katsa and Po are their own characters. The dynamic is certainly a bit similar, but all it should tell you is that if you liked Katniss and Peeta, you’ll like Katsa and Po. Po gives Katsa the courage to see herself as more than a dumb attack animal. Katsa’s physical strength, and later, her friendship, give Po the opportunity to unleash his Grace. Both become stronger, wiser, and better because of each other.
Although this book is published as YA, it is more in the tradition of adventure-fantasy novels with young protagonists. If you like fantasy but typically steer clear of YA, please don’t let the marketing classification deter you. If you do recommend Graceling to a young adult, you should know that it does have subtle sex scenes (which are still unmistakably sex), and the suggestion, but never a graphic statement, that somewhere in the setting, children are being sexually abused.
In any other system, Graceling would be an A for me, rather than an A-, but one implication of a tip-top DIK grade is that the book has to be nearly endlessly rereadable. Most of the plot twists hold up very well upon rereading, because they are rooted in problem-solving and character growth. There is, however, one stretch I skipped entirely on rereading. The first time around, the tension was gripping. The second time, I just wanted to skip straight to the villain’s comeuppance and exhale in relief. But that’s a small price to pay for the other outstanding 400 pages.
I recommend Graceling to fantasy lovers, to romance readers, and to action/adventure fans regardless of age. The only people who should not read Graceling are people who have to get up in the morning.