by Kristin Cashore; Jeffery C Mathison; Cathy Riggs; Harcourt, Inc. Print book : Fiction : Juvenile audience
Thoroughly good stuff!   (2012-03-18)
As an avid reader since the tender age of three (and now a writer in my own, er, write...), I am always on the lookout for new material with which to quench my insatiable thirst for books. Graceling and its companion Fire have been a fantastic find for me. Not the type of book I normally read, but a friend recommended Graceling to me and once I picked it up that was that - I was totally hooked and almost literally couldn't put it down. Cashore, like a benevolent version of her villain, seizes your mind and makes you believe every word she writes, pulling you so far into her imaginative and exciting storyline that you barely manage to surface for the essentials of life, such as food and drink, and even occasionally oxygen!
Some reviews (see Kira in particular, as well as several others) have, I feel, been somewhat unnecessarily hard on Cashore's first heroine, Katsa. Ok, so she hates men - but if you had been to all intents and purposes brought up by a harsh (male) monarch who kept you only because you were useful to him and occasionally amusing, wouldn't you be just a tad angry with the male sex in general? That is how human psychology works, n'est ce pas? Kira and others suggest that Katsa's attitude is repellent - but I would argue that Katsa is a damaged, hurting herione who, while never doubting her skill for killing, is nonetheless sickened by it and feels that she should keep it and herself away from others. If she can acheive this by being, I quote, a 'mean bitch', so be it. Remember that her own people treat her as an outcast - that's bound to make her a little bitter, surely? And also remember that her Grace is survival - by being tough she can protect herself from those who would take advantage of her. And believe me, they would.
I would also like to object to a certain comment made regarding Cashore's inability to create 'a woman who feels comfortable with herself'. I am a woman myself, and although definitely feminine, I am still very independent and I know how to take care of myself. I would like to meet a woman who feels completely at home and comfortable in her own skin - I have never yet come across such a creature and would like to study her at length, preferably under a microscope. Cashore may be able to invent strange and alien worlds and powers beyond our full comprehension, but I defy her to be able to create such a wholly unbelievable monster as this thoroughly contented, comfortable woman with no doubts about herself and her surroundings, no fears as to the power the other sex exercises over her world, and no feelings of helpless rage over the horrors perpetrated in the name of progress; a woman who never feels the urge to battle against the restrictions and expectations the modern world still insists on imposing upon her, never feels regret over things she has said and done to hurt others while trying to protect herself, and never feels insecure or uncertain of who she really is inside.
I am by no means a man-hater (quite the opposite!) but were I in Katsa's highly uncomfortable shoes I would probably make quite a good mean bitch myself. And so, I suspect, would Kira and a billion and one other women...
Graceling is not a celebration of misandry but a powerful story that explores, in metaphor, many of the things that affect women today; the horrors of abuse, the fear and bitterness experienced by social outcasts, and the fear of losing yourself in your own talents. It also shows how important friendship is in a relationship as well as love, and how such a friendship can help you become happier and more secure even when life throws you things you'd rather not have to catch. It explores the journey that is the finding of yourself, and how this can make you a stronger and better person; and the other journey that is learning to live with your past and your mistakes. And after all, it's just fiction and a cracking good story! Maybe, even after all this analysis, the only message Cashore is really trying to get across is Katsa's story. It's a good one.
In summary, I love both Graceling and Fire for their excitement, their vigorous dynamic, their realistic and vivid yet imagination-freeing descriptions, and the passion for life that cannot help but seep through into Cashore's writing - and I will be eagerly awaiting further installments.
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