Fantasy Book Review
As fantasy continues to push into the collective consciousness and is no longer limited to the nerdom of 20 years ago, more and more writers are flexing their literati musculature into the genre and it benefits all of us. I wouldn’t call Kashore one of the top fantasy writers out there but she does have a lot to offer. Graceling is well thought out, well written and smartly executed. She builds her own world which is a must in my opinion and she populates it with interesting characters doing interesting things. She also invents the mysticism that permeates that world and that acts as the catalyst to all major events.
The world is a fairly standard one with a handful of kingdoms, each with their own politics and beliefs which nicely sets the stage for all sorts of potential realm conflict. The people that live in this world are the staples of medieval serfdom save for the gracelings. The gracelings are easy to spot due to their different colored eyes. When a graceling is identified they become immediate property of the kingdom so that they can assist the dynastic lords in keeping a tight leash on the populace. The gracelings each have a specific power that is as unique as the person themselves. Some of these powers are completely useless but most gracelings are graced with a skill that gives them a distinct edge over the rest of the populace.
Our main character, Katsa, is one of the deadliest gracelings in the realm. Her skill is, quite simply, death. She spends the early part of the book as an assassin on a tether for one of the more tyrannical lords of the Seven Kingdoms. She is not horrified by her role but neither does she revel in it. What does horrify her is the pettiness that drives her master and she spends a good amount of the book struggling with these weak motivations.
Our other lead, Po, is a prince from one of the island kingdoms and he too is a graceling. His grace, to the outside eye, is one of swordsmanship. He travels to Katsa’s kingdom on a political mission with all sorts of ulterior motives and soon finds himself orbiting the same circles as Katsa. He is as charming as Katsa is stand-offish and the two start a relationship that is as inevitable as gravity. They start by pitting each other’s graces against one other but it soon becomes obvious that they both share the desire to be doing something relevant, something far from the pettiness of Katsa’s every day life.
Po gives Katsa the excuse she barely needs to break free from her master and set off on her own crusade. This starts the physical journey of the fantastic which also begins the metaphysical one of self discovery. Not only are our two characters learning about themselves but they are also learning about the graces that define them. They discover that the graces are not the well defined boxes that others tried to put them in but instead are far more intricate reflections of their own character.
That’s really one of the main lessons that the book has to offer. Nobody has the right to put baby in a corner. We all have to play the cards we’re dealt but how we play those cards is entirely up to us. As we examine those cards,. we find that they can make just about any hand we want.
The villain is a graceling as well and his motives are entirely evil. He is the only character that could have used a little more development. The evil he exudes is a little too anonymous and hard to identify with. That is truly my only concern with the book. The characters are believable and likable and the plot takes you from place to place with a breathlessness that makes you wonder how the characters will ever get out of the next pickle they are put into. I will definitely be continuing this series.