Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Title: Graceling

Series: The Seven Kingdoms #1

Author: Kristin Cashore

Genre: YA (14-18) Fantasy

Excerpt from Chapter One of Graceling:

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. Turning when it was time to turn; stopping finally before an opening that should contain a stairway leading down. She crouched and felt forward with her hands. There was a stone step, damp and slippery with moss, and another one below it. This was Oll’s staircase, then. She only hoped that when he and Giddon followed her with their torches, they would see the moss slime, tread carefully, and not waken the dead by clattering headlong down the steps.

Katsa slunk down the stairway. One left turn and two right turns. She began to hear voices as she entered a corridor where the darkness flickered orange with the light of a torch set in the wall. Across from the torch was another corridor where, according to Oll, anywhere from two to ten guards should be standing watch before a certain cell at the passageway’s end.

These guards were Katsa’s mission. It was for them that she had been sent first.

Exploited for her unusual ability to kill, a teenaged girl forms an unusual friendship and entangles herself in a mystery spanning multiple kingdoms.

Craft: From a fascinating premise—a teenage girl “graced” with a skill she hates, the “gift” of killing—to a plot filled with suspense and humor, Graceling is a story that captures the imagination and the heart.

The characters are probably this story’s strongest point, with dynamic characters that connect with the readers because of their determination and spirit. However, the plot is no slacker. Intertwining with the hero’s and heroine’s internal conflicts as they grapple with their unique giftings and the implications thereof, the external plot continually builds, layer after layer, through a complex mission fraught with tension.

All of this is painted against a backdrop vivid and colorful, with some wonderful world-building inbetween.

Content: I admit, I went into Graceling with trepidation. Come on—a secular novel about a girl “graced” with killing?

Yet I was surprised and amazed how well the issue was handled. It is never portrayed as anything but the evil that it is, and the protagonist’s repulsion at her own ability offers a respect and dignity to the problematic issue.

Nor does the positive end there. Graceling faces head-on a variety of issues and has much good to say about the responsibility we each have for the choices we make, choosing mercy over revenge, and the complexities of being gifted, among other things.

In fact, I would have highly recommended the book, except for one other thing: Halfway through the story, the romance between the two main characters turns very sexual, and it is never denounced or shown to have any repercussions. If anything, the very opposite is true: Marriage is scorned as confining and restrictive, derogatory to the wife, burdensome to both. On top of this, the guy offers himself as the lover, and overall the roles for men and women set by God are reversed.

And with that, a fabulous story was ruined.

Summary: While there is much good to say about Graceling, its scorn for marriage and the promotion of premarital sex leads me to recommend readers skip the story, as such messages are far too prevalent in our culture, and readers—especially teenagers who are already bombarded such things—do not need to be filling their minds with sex scenes.

Rating: Craft—5, Content—1, Overall—1.8 out of 5

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