Fantasy fiction: In the male-dominated genre of fantasy fiction, ‘Graceling’ by Kristin Cashore reveals a female perspective. Learn of children who each have their own fantastical ‘grace’ or skill…
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I have always been a big fan of fantasy stories; as a child I loved the Choose your own Adventure books where you chose what the characters did next by turning to certain pages based on your decision. But one thing that always saddens me a little while I browse the fantasy section of any bookshop, is just how few women writers have books there. Fantasy is a rather male-dominated genre, so it’s awesome to find an excellent fantasy book by a woman writer, and even better when the book’s main character is a kick-ass female warrior.
‘Graceling’ is the debut novel by Kristin Cashore, it has won a whole range of awards and prizes, and has recently been joined by her new book ‘Fire’; a loosely-related companion.
‘Graceling’ follows the story of Katsa; a girl who has come to hate her natural skills and the person they have turned her into. In the world the book creates, some children are born with a Grace; an extraordinary skill for something. While there is no sign of this at birth, after a few weeks or months one eye will change colour defining them as a Graceling. Some children will discover they have a useless Grace such as talking backwards or climbing trees, but once a child’s eyes settle into two colours, most kingdoms decree that the child is turned over to the King, and, if they are useful to him, remain in his service. Children found to have a less useful Grace are returned home, often to a life of suspicion and ostracism.
Katsa grows into a Grace which proves to be very useful to her King: the Grace of killing. From a young age she becomes his personal assassin; travelling throughout the world to injure or kill those who have upset the King somehow. But Katsa despises her Grace and despises being used as the King’s personal bully to carry out his justice on people who, very often, do not deserve it at all.
On her travels, Katsa hears of people who need help; help the King refuses to send, and, with a few trusted friends, including the King’s son, she sets up a group to offer that help. The Council work secretly, away from the King’s eyes, to help those who need it: girls kidnapped and forced into servitude, people incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit, towns terrorised by soldiers abusing their power.
Word of the Council begins to spread, and soon, Katsa and her allies have safe houses everywhere; room and board offered by people who the Council have helped, and a whole underground network of supporters and messengers.
It is while on one of these missions, to free a prisoner, that Katsa finds herself face to face with another Graceling; one Graced with fighting and the first person she has ever met able to stand up against her. And while all of her training is telling her to kill the Graceling, to leave no witnesses who can identify her, something stops her. Something inside tells her that she can trust him. So she leaves him unconscious, unaware that this mission is the beginning of, not only a whole new life for herself, but also the unraveling of a secret that will send shockwaves across the whole world.
Katsa soon finds herself knee-deep in a puzzle that shakes everything she’s ever known and forces her to reassess the world as well as how well she knows herself and her Grace.
‘Graceling’ is a fantasy novel with a real soul to it; the storyline is tightly bound to the characters that live it out; gradually building to a crescendo of tension which had me reading as fast as I could and even shouting out loud at the characters. This book has a truly unexpected softness to it: Katsa is so much more than a hired assassin – she is a girl learning how to trust both herself and those around her. She is a girl who has been betrayed but still follows her heart to become a person she can be proud to be. She is a girl who is only just learning what her true place in the world is. And who of us can’t relate to that?
The ever-twisting storyline, well-developed characters and their respective relationships makes this a book that is near impossible to put down. Whenever I wasn’t reading this, I was thinking about it, and looking forward to my next chance to curl up on the sofa with it.
I hesitate to say that this is ‘a fantasy story for women’, but it does have a certain sense of coming from a woman’s perspective. ‘Graceling’ is a fantasy novel filled with honesty and emotion, but Kristin Cashore truly deserves her place among the other great fantasy novelists and all of her male counterparts. ‘Graceling’ is an amazing debut novel which will hold onto your imagination long after you’ve read the last page.
- Buy Graceling on Amazon