Friday, January 27, 2012

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

I picked up "Graceling" because its cover was so pretty -- and I have a theory about the quality of book covers somehow intertwining with the quality of the book (which I might discuss in a later post).  Graceling also looked intriguing based on the blurb I read -- it reminded me of what it's like to play Dungeons & Dragons.

I decided, therefore, to give Graceling a chance.

And apart from one little character quirk, I couldn't really complain, but that quirk was an irritant and it grew until I found myself displeased with the whole book, which is really a shame, as it is so well written.

Graceling tells the story of Katsa, a magically gifted person (called a graceling) who is a mighty warrior used as a king's fist to punish subjects who've cheated or simply disagreed with the king.  There are other gracelings, with other gifts, but the main focus is on Katsa, who is running an underground Scarlet-Pimpernel-esque rescue of people throughout the seven kingdoms in their part of the world.  However, Katsa's fear of the king prevents her from doing what she knows to be right (in public at least), until certain events unfold that lead her to leave the king and strike out on her own path.

The action and descriptions in this book are the best parts -- you can see the dust fly in the fighting scenes, and there is one scene with a character snow-shoeing through the bitter cold in the mountains that chills you to the bone.

But when Katsa meets someone and falls in love, she fights it and when she can't fight it any more, she just decides, "I won't marry."  But instead of going their separate ways because she can't handle commitment, they agree to just be lovers.  Forever.  Which, in my mind, is sort of similar to making some sort of commitment, even without the 'being-tied-down' legally part (which I never understood anyway - the viewpoint, that is.  I just never understood why people couldn't commit legally but had no problem with attempting to maintain a lifelong, "committed" relationship -- I mean, wouldn't you rather be as sure as you could that you and your partner were committed to each other and wouldn't leave at the drop of a hat?  Or, didn't they love each other enough to promise to be together forever?)

So in that respect, the relationship felt more carnal (although the sex scenes were perfect because they didn't describe the sex -- they're actually the best not-really-sex scenes I've ever read), and not something deep and wonderful and eternal like I was hoping (what can I say, I love fairy tales).

I think the reason it bothered me so much is that there wasn't enough of an explanation of why Katsa felt this way -- if she did feel that way, WHY?  And would it change eventually?  Or was she doomed to forever roam the earth and only visit her love every once in a while when she felt like it?  It was simply a weird interlude where I felt like smacking Katsa for being stupid and not committing to this wonderful guy.

That choice did not make sense to me, coming from Katsa.  In other stories, you would be able to see how the character grew up and how they might be afraid to love someone forever, or give themselves up wholeheartedly, but it wouldn't end with someone pledging their love forever without rings.  It might end with them fumbling through the beginning of a relationship, or them realizing their love story would be short, or maybe even them changing and healing and realizing that a lifelong relationship is worth something more than momentary pleasure.

So, I'm disappointed.  The author wrote two other books in the same universe, but honestly, I think I might get too frustrated with the main character to really enjoy the fight scenes.

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