Greetings from the Westin Ka’anapali in Lahaina, Maui! My body is absolutely confused as to what time it is. My family and I flew into Kahului Airport last night around 4:30pm Hawai’i time, which meant it was 7:30pm in Los Angeles, and 10:30pm in New York. Coordinating daily phone calls with Bear was a bit of a challenge as he is now six hours ahead of me. I woke up around 5:30am here to a beautiful silvery full moon was hovering over a lavender and indigo ocean in the pre-dawn light. I’m excited; it’s been five years since my family and I went on vacation together. Unfortunately as I seem to have forgotten my camera battery back in LA, I can’t photodocument everything I normally would, so you will have to make do with a random photo of Ka’anapali Beach I found online.
But gloating over being in Paradise is not what I meant to blog about. I bought and finished GRACELING by Kristin Cashore several days ago and meant to review it before I left Pasadena. Without further ado:
Review of GRACELING by Kristin Cashore
My brother and I currently have an agreement; he doesn’t bring his Gameboy on our vacation and I don’t bring any books (our respective vices). This has been much harder on both of us than either of us anticipated. Anyhow, I shall have to review GRACELING for you based on what I can recall.
In the land of the seven kingdoms, Graced individuals have a preternatural gift or skill, the most useful of which go to serve the kings of each country. Lady Katsa’s Grace is killing. She serves her uncle, King Randa of the Middluns, by traveling the length and breadth of the kingdom to intimidate his subjects into subservience. Katsa’s Grace has defined her and her relationships to other people, as everyone is terrified of her. To counter the lives she is forced to take, she creates a Council of spies to bring whatever justice she can to the seven kingdoms. On one Council mission, she encounters a Graced young man from Lienid, who will change how she views herself and her Grace.
If I remember correctly, GRACELING was blurbed by Tamora Pierce, who wrote the SONG OF THE LIONESS quartet about Alanna. Although the plots and worlds are in no ways similar, there is a similar high fantasy quality to both that makes the novel both easy to read and likeable. In GRACELING, Katsa and her Lienid friend, Prince Po, travel to Monsea to discover who was behind the kidnapping of his grandfather and why. While this is ostensibly the plot of this book, the real story is the romance that develops between Katsa and Po.
I like Katsa: she is a bit wild, feral, and emotionally distant in a way that reminded me of Nick from THE DEMON’S LEXICON, although I found Nick a bit more sympathetic, mostly because Katsa is simply emotionally obtuse, whereas Nick isn’t—ah, spoilers, I shall not go there. Po I was less sold on, mostly because he seems like your typical gold+silver-eyed romantic hero. He’s handsome, check. He’s a prince, check. He fights really well, check (but not as well as Katsa, double-check). He’s sensitive and attuned to your needs, check, check, and check.
Despite the fantasy tropes of GRACELING, for some reason, this one came across very strongly to me as a romance above anything else. Katsa’s obliviousness when it came to her own feelings was funny to read about (because it so very closely mirrored my own denseness when it came to my feelings for Bear), but I felt Katsa’s reasons for being wary of romantic relationships and marriage were a little false and hollow. It’s one thing to believe that your killing Grace may one day harm the one you love, but it’s another to feel caged and trapped when your character has willingly shackled herself to the bullying whims of a tyrant uncle. Dawn Metcalf once wrote about the annoying Mizz Independent and while I don’t find Katsa annoying, I find her whole stance to romance weird. Especially as her love for Po later saves the day.
The concept of the Graces was pretty awesome, especially as Katsa’s Grace is KILLING. (Or was, until a certain point in the book in which you discover that it’s actually something else.) But I felt the tell-tale heterochromia of Gracelings was another device to make the characters prettier to the other. Katsa has one blue eye (as blue as the sky) and one green one (as green as the grasses of Middluns), while Po has one silver and one gold eye, like lamps that glow in the dark. Despite the rarity and strangeness, this is an aesthetically pleasing trait. One of the girls in my high school had two different coloured eyes, but one was dark and one was light, and the difference was pronounced (but cool).
But despite my issues, I did actually like GRACELING. It was (somewhat) frivolous and entertaining, much in the vein of Tamora Pierce’s books, which is, of course, a high compliment. Recommended.
Now, off to have some Kona coffee and do yoga on the beach.