Graceling: The Graphic Novel
I loved Graceling and its sequels, Fire, Bitterblue, and Winterkeep, and I also love graphic novels, so I was so excited to see that Graceling had scored a graphic adaptation. Well, at least I was excited until I read it. A graphic novel should be more than a literal illustration of a text. Not only is that all we get here, but the illustrations themselves are flat and lifeless, adding up to an unsatisfying reading experience.
I’ll reuse my plot description from my review of the novel, and then talk more about the specifics of the adaptation. Here’s an introduction to the story:
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.
While the text novel is a gripping page turner, the graphic version lacks energy. There are too many text boxes, and they are often also much too large. Lengthy monologues and narration create visual dead space, where momentum goes to die.
The art compounds the problem. The story is primarily shown in separate, sequential panels, creating a choppy visual experience which resembles a storyboard more than a finished, flowing narrative. Katsa’s fight sequences are especially prone to literal, step-by-step depiction.
The facial expressions are exaggerated and awkward, cartoonish rather than graphic. If the illustrations were a film, we’d say they were overacting – “This is my FRUSTRATION FACE. See how frustrated I am! My brow, it furrows, and my eyes, they squint! Yes, such frustration!”
I will give the artist credit for absolutely stunning landscapes. Unfortunately, I don’t come to graphic novels for landscapes.
Content in adaptations needs to be reduced to meet graphic novel page restrictions. Add the fact that so much space is wasted on step by step images of Katsa doing a backflip, and you have even less space for worldbuilding. That’s a huge loss, because Graceling is one of those novels that camouflages its plot twists by giving you so many details that it’s impossible to know which one will be relevant later. In the novel, for instance, you hear about all of the Seven Kingdoms and their rulers in balance, so you don’t know who’s behind the grandfather’s kidnapping. In the graphic novel, the way the rulers are described and illustrated and how much time is spent on each makes it rapidly obvious who the villain is. Additionally:
Graceling is a terrific book, but this graphic novel is not a worthy adaptation.
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I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.