Graceling by Kristin Cashore

by Blythe Robbins

The Whole Package

I’m forever in search of a strong female character. I’m not just talking morally strong, or even emotionally strong; frankly, girl who kicks ass in more ways than one. I want the whole package.Traditionally, there haven’t been that many of them – maybe Susan and Lucy in The Chronicles of Narnia or Charlotte in The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (which I was obsessed with as a kid), but even that’s a stretch. Luckily, it seems that strong female characters are popping up everywhere lately from Katniss Everdeen in Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games to Lyra Belacqua in Philip Pullman’s The Dark Materials Trilogy.

I recently discovered a character that is my favorite female of the bunch: Lady Katsa from the novel Graceling by Kristin Cashore. Many of you may already be familiar with Katsa as Graceling came out a few years ago (and was recently followed by Fire; and rumor has it that Cashore is working on her third novel Bitterblue, for which I am crossing my fingers). Katsa is a woman like no other: At nineteen, she is the best fighter in the land of Seven Kingdoms due to a unique ability she was born with called a Grace. She can, quite simply, kick ass better than any other character I’ve ever come across (yes, better even than Katniss). She’s been able to kill a man with one hand since she was a child.

Katsa is marked as a Graceling by one green and one blue eye. Feared and scorned for her Grace, Katsa’s uncle Randa (also King of the Middluns) exploits her ability by having her conduct his dirty work for him. Known throughout the land for meting out punishment and torture, Katsa despises her ability to kill easily and struggles constantly for control over her own life and what everyone assumes to be her killing Grace.

In fact, much of the novel explores the themes of control and power: How people in power control others, how a person controls her own power, and how to let go of control for what is outside our power are motifs that run throughout the novel. Indeed, the novel incorporates as much a spiritual journey as a physical one for Katsa, and as a reader it’s highly satisfying to witness Katsa’s progression.

Key to Katsa’s growth is a friendship that evolves with a mysterious stranger named Po. For the first time in her life, Katsa meets her match in another Graceling, a man who can not only keep up with Katsa physically but can also push through her tough exterior to spark a friendship that will eventually alter both their lives. Po and Katsa set off an a journey in the Seven Kingdoms to solve a mystery that could threaten their entire world. In the process, they discover that their Graces aren’t exactly what they imagined them to be.

Graceling unrolls action sequences, love scenes, and as much adventure as anyone could ever want. Cashore makes the world of the Seven Kingdoms come alive as she moves the characters across mountains, forests, and seas. At one point, I swear I could smell fresh bread baking as the characters inhaled it, and feel the icy cold snow beneath me just as the characters passed through it. Katsa is a believable (and full-bodied) character because Cashore anchors her solidly in a three-dimensional world that convinces us that Gracelings are as human as you or me.

If there’s any downside to Graceling, it’s that I want to know more about the world of the Seven Kingdoms. There are certain details that I wish Cashore had had the time to flesh out (like more about the Council), but I don’t disagree with the plot choices Cashore made to keep her story moving. She has truly created another world; one that I didn’t want to leave. She has finally provided me with that strong female character that I’ve always wanted to read about. Physically strong, morally tough, emotionally growing, Katsa really is the whole package.

Blythe Robbins, a Californian living in New York City, is a geeky editor by day. At night, she can be found reading fiction or writing her blog: theonegoodthing.blogspot.com.

3 thoughts on “Graceling by Kristin Cashore

  1. I am in the middle of reading Graceling right now, and I love it. This is the type of fantasy I love to read. Another strong female character I thought of when I read your post was Lessa from the Dragonriders of Pern series. And Sabriel- she’s totally a kick-butt character. I love strong female characters- I hope to portray that with my own main character.

  2. Another great heroine that nobody’s heard of is Jo Larouche (also known as Jo Underwood, but only when she’s about to destroy the universe) from The Order of Oddfish. She’s clever and brave, so it’s too bad a suicidal cult wants her to eat the world. :

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