Ambivalence: the coexistence within an individual of positive and negative feelings toward the same person, object, or action, simultaneously drawing him or her in opposite directions (Dictionary.com). Thus ends my Graceling review.
Kidding! But it does sum it up nicely.
On the one hand, I found it a fast, engaging read that was hard to put down. As a favorite tale states, there is “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” Alright, maybe not the giants or monsters, at least in chimera form, but as human allegories they exist. It was particularly easy to get lost in reading with so many developments and the drive to know the ending. I sat down with it on a rainy day and finished it with a few hours. A few criticisms of the book center around the “Mary Sue” main character; a description I would have to dispute. Although Katsa seems invincible because of her Grace, she is emotionally stunted and out of touch with her own feelings, and the two together is what helps to make her character flawed and accessible. Katsa and Po are taken in interesting directions emotionally as they awaken to the greater application of their talents. I also give kudos to Cashore for not following the obvious and traditional ending, and for raising the marriage issue in a way that has potentially offended many readers.
On the other hand, a central problem was a lack of audience definition. I don’t read a great deal of young adult, but the writing style seemed particularly Spartan with frequently repeated phrases, simplistic characterizations and a generally stripped-down format that I associate with books targeting younger readers (or authors tired of their adult series–hello, Evanovich– bad Carol!). I tend to love word-smithing, and there were a bit many eyes flashing and scowling expressions for my taste. The most lavishly described section occurs late in the book when Katsa climbs a wintery mountain pass, almost as if either Katsa or Cashore was finally settling into her world and looking around at the scenery. World-building was somewhat scant and characterizations somewhat simplistic (evil is really evil because it controls people, abuses animals and scares young girls), which again I can’t fault if a younger audience is the target. The challenge comes with a romance that (view spoiler) –probably removing it from the 10 year-old audience I had thought intended–or at least the less precocious ones.
One of the most fascinating things about this book is the gender reversal. When discussing it in group, I realized that I likely would have disliked this book immensely had the talents of the two main characters been reversed. And there is one of the lynchpins of the book–had it been reversed, this book might have passed under the radar of most readers. As it was, I thought Katsa and Po were done well enough in the reversal to be believable.
Conclusion? I wouldn’t mind my niece or hypothetical daughter reading, but it’s not present-worthy. Three gender-reversed stars (out of five).