RELEASE DATE: April 2012
FORMAT: Audiobook, 13 hours & 32 mins
In a world where people born with an exceptional skill, known as a Grace, are both feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises: the Grace of killing.
Feared by the court and shunned by those her own age, the darkness of her Grace casts a heavy shadow over Katsa’s life. Yet she remains defiant: when the King of Lienid’s father is kidnapped she investigates, and stumbles across a mystery. Who would want to kidnap the old man, and why? And who was the extraordinary Graced man whose fighting abilities rivalled her own? The only thing Katsa is sure of is that she no longer wants to kill. The intrigue around this kidnapping offers her a way out – but little does she realise, when she takes it, that something insidious and dark lurks behind the mystery. Something spreading from the shadowy figure of a one-eyed king. (Goodreads)
Where to start?! I loved, loved, loved it! This book is a re-read for me, well I guess technically a re-listen. I read it back in 2010 and I enjoyed it. In fact it was one of my Top Ten Reads of 2010. And when I was sent it and Fire (the second book in the series) as audiobooks to review, I decided to read/listen to it again. I gave it 3/5 the first time, but after my second run through I’m going to have to increase it (what was I thinking?!)!
This really is a fabulous book. Cashore’s world building is immense and she has drawn a vivid picture of the seven kingdom GRACELING resides in, but what has the clincher for me was her completely rich and complicated characters.
Let’s start with the concept. A world where a select amount of people are born with a special gift, these people are called ‘gracelings’, these people are easily identified by their unusual different coloured eyes. For most people this might be swimming, cooking, dancing or even fighting. Enter our main character Katsa who at the age of eight, killed a man with her bare hands. Her grace is killing.
Katsa is such a unique and fascinating character. She is moody, strong, determined, wilful and often rude, refuses to ever marry and horrified at the idea of falling in love. She is awesome! She made me laugh regularly, she is one of the toughest heroines I’ve come across, I don’t think any of my favourites could take her!
It’s strange because in my own personal life, a lot of Katsa’s personal ideals differ vastly from my own. For example, the idea that marriage somehow makes a woman weaker, the fact that she never wants to be a mother. And while I did strongly disagree with these opinions, I understand that these thoughts, fears, and yes for Katsa horrors, are what made Katsa… Katsa. The life that she has lived, her grace, her upbringing do not endear her to a life of marriage and motherhood. But the writing twists its way until we see Katsa having to protect the life of a young girl against an unimaginable evil with her own. I respected her, for what made her tick, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride the plot took both Katsa and me as the reader on.
As a counter balance to Katsa we have Prince Po. He is much more grounded and down to earth, warm, kind and gentle, but ruthless in his own way. His grace is so cleverly developed as the book progresses, opening up his skill and friendship in ways with Katsa that I hadn’t anticipated.
The love story was unexpected. It was so sweet and tender, there was something quite beautifully innocent about it. It was completely lovely and captivating. I think I read too many romances as I so wanted the fluffy white wedding and due to the nature of the book, I knew I was never going to get it. But I still absolutely (yes I’m going to use the word again) loved it!
The plot, again … where to start?! Well it both begins and ends with a kidnapping. The first an old man, the second a young girl. And the journey in between is an intrinsically woven plot, drawn together bit by bit, unraveling like a powerful, lethal and beautiful snake.
The story has everything, fight scenes, love, betrayal, blackmail, a pure evil villain – I challenge you find one more sinister, an epic, terrifying journey, pain, heartache and at its core survival. Katsa develops from a young, slightly naive woman manipulated by her King, to a strong woman who understands the need for sacrifice for the greater good, and that understands that even her deadly grace cannot protect her from some of the most terrifying things life has to throw at her. You watch Katsa evolve and grow through several revolutions into a more rounded, whole and strong woman.
As this was an audiobook, I must take a moment to comment on the narration. Read by Emma Powell, it was rather nice and quite rare for me to listen due to my reading tastes, to listen to a British narrator and she was great. Powell bought the story and characters to life with her voice.
A superb novel, Cashore’s writing is rich, detailed and captivating. Even if you’re not a fantasy fan I would urge you to pick GRACELING up. An amazing start to a new series, three-dimensional characters that breathe off the page, a beautiful love story, an epic journey and everyone’s favourite battle of good versus evil. Go buy it!
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