Author: Kristin Cashore
Length: 471 pages
Series or Stand-Alone: First book of 3 companion novels
Content appropriate for: grades 9+
Graceling is a novel that balances many characteristics that don't seem to fit together. The plot is both adventurous and humorous, heroic and brutal. Katsa, the main character, is both savage and gentle. Though I love fantasy adventure books, rarely do I find them to be genuinely fun. Generally, I find that books that make me laugh out loud are merely trite entertainment. Graceling turned these truths on their heads. From the opening pages I was captivated by Katsa's brutality, wit, and gender bending.
Cashore's world-building was as thorough and seamless as her character development. I hate romance novels, and resist anything too much like Twilight. Somehow, though, the romantic elements in Graceling were far from sappy, and added a great deal to the story. Though the plot did drag at times, Cashore avoided the pitfall that bugs me the most in YA and children's literature. The characters figured out the plot twists at almost the same time I did. I didn't have to wait 20+ pages for them to figure it out already!
Graceling was wonderfully fun. Katsa was a thrilling main character to sit with for a few hundred pages. I enjoyed every slice of her sword and punch of her fist. I don't think I'll read the follow-up companion novel, Fire, which follows a secondary character that I'm not particularly interested in. However, the second companion novel, Bitterblue, may make it onto my TBR pile since it follows another witty gender-bending character from Graceling.
Update 1.21.2013: Two friends have told me that Fire is a must read book. Apparently the sample chapter at the end of Graceling is not very representative of the actual book. My friend Sarah raved and raved about Fire so it's officially moving near the top of my TBR list. ~ Amanda