Re-Read: Graceling (Kristin Cashore)

Graceling is the first Graceling Realm novel by Kristin Cashore.
Finished on: 30.1.2022
[Here are my reviews of the other Graceling Realm novels.]

Content Note: ableism

Katsa is Graced: she has a special and extreme talent. Unfortunately, her Grace is to kill. She has suffered her whole life for it, constantly pressuring herself to get herself under perfect control, while having to work as a common thug and contract killer for her uncle, King Randa. But Katsa sees the injustices in the kingdoms around her and decides that she can atone for her Grace by setting some things right. Therefore she forms a council that works for the people. When Katsa and the council rescue an old man who has been kidnapped and Katsa meets another Graceling, a fighter, she soon has to see that something is really very wrong in her world.

Last year, a new Graceling Realm novel finally came out and since it’s been practically a decade, I decided it would be time to give the series another go. And I’m happy to report that it’s still a wonderfully engaging read.

The book cover showing a woman with a sword over her shoulder in a barren, green-tinted landscape.

Even on my third read and with ten years’ distance from the last time I read it, I still really loved Graceling. I loved pretty much all the characters and their relationships with each other, above all, how else could it be, Katsa and Po. Katsa gets to grow so much, gets to explore who she is, who she can be once she takes control of her own life. And she bears the marks of her experience, but as she grows, they actually become scars and not constantly open wounds. All it takes is for her to experience that somebody who doesn’t know her her whole life and has some kind of obligation towards her believes in her. Loves her. That’s the key that opens her up to the entire world.

And Po is such a great character because he rests so much within himself. He is self-assured and knows exactly who he is – has apparently done so his entire life. So when he thinks that he has lost himself, he is entirely lost. He has no way to deal with it. He has no clue how he can figure himself out. Unfortunately his character arc ends with an ableist trope where a disability is magically healed/balanced out. (If I remember correctly, in the author’s note for Fire, Cashore acknowledges that and thanks the disabled community for teaching her, which makes me like her a lot.) It’s the only major flaw of the book.

I also loved Bitterblue – I am looking forward to reading her book again. (And the new novel which also focuses on her, I think. I tried not to read anything about it other than that it exists.) Her dignity and iron will really jump off the page, alongside her caring nature – a very rare combination in fiction, I think.

There are many more characters I loved that take a smaller role (Skye, Raffin, Bann, Captain Faun) and Leck is such a creepy villain. And I appreciated so many worldbuilding details – the complexities and differences of the various cultures that Cashore describes. The fact that Katsa vows not to have children – and therefore talks about contraception. The absolute fact that Raffin and Bann are a couple (although the book unfortunately never makes it explicit, possibly a publishing decision more than a storytelling one. At least that’s what I’m assuming since it’s made explicit later-on. In Bitterblue, I think?).

There really is much to love here, and to make things even better, it’s compulsively readable. It starts slowly, but that only means that you stop noticing how much you’re into the book until it’s too late to get out – and you start reading faster and faster. Even on the third go-through.

Summarizing: a wonderful book.

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