Author: Kristin Cashore
Series: Graceling Realm Series, #1
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: 10/01/2008
Read All About It:
Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.
When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.
With elegant, evocative prose and a cast of unforgettable characters, debut author Kristin Cashore creates a mesmerizing world, a death-defying adventure, and a heart-racing romance that will consume you, hold you captive, and leave you wanting more.
With multiple overflowing bookshelves, you would expect picking my favorite book to be incredibly hard. This is true, but Graceling by Kristin Cashore has been bolded at the top of my favorites list since it came out in 2008. I’ve written a 20 stanza rhyming poem describing the plot for class, referenced it in my college application essay, and followed my mom around for seven hours describing it when she asked the fatal question “What is that book about?” (she wishes I was exaggerating).
It’s about Katsa, a serious, powerful and smart young woman who stuck out to me among the gossiping, fashion-obsessed female protagonists that were being published at the time. In this imaginary world there are seven different kingdoms that often treat Gracelings in different ways. Some treat them as regular people, while others are used by the Kings as tools such as Katsa’s case. Her uncle, the king, uses her grace to kill in order to assassinate or torture those who disagree with him. Throughout the story, we follow Katsa and a host of other well-written characters as they fight back against the oppression and unfair treatment in many kingdoms, which makes for an action packed plot line that appeals to boys as well as girls.
As a character, Katsa turns female expectations on the head. Her Grace gives her greater physical strength than most women are portrayed as typically having, leaving few instances where she needs a man to come to her rescue. She cuts her hair when it annoys her and refuses to wear dresses, breaking the gender stereotype of how women are expected to dress or look to be beautiful. While she does have a romantic interest, it is not a major part of the plot. There is no Princess searching for her Prince to marry in this book. In fact, Katsa is against marriage for herself. The story does not condemn marriage, but puts a refreshing twist on the fact it does not need to be part of women’s life goals as society dictates it should be. These challenges of the feminine stereotype make her a strong female lead that is comparable to Katniss from Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games and Tris Prior from Veronica Roth’s Divergent series.
Cashore made me want to climb between the pages to find myself amongst the fictional “friends” I had made by the end of the novel. Luckily, there is a prequel (Fire) and sequel (Bitterblue) that allow me to continue spending time with the characters. My favorites list may have had many powerful protagonists added to it since, but Katsa still holds the title. I will 100% always recommend it!