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Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.

She never expects to fall in love with beautiful Prince Po.

She never expects to learn the truth behind her Grace—or the terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

With elegant, evocative prose and a cast of unforgettable characters, debut author Kristin Cashore creates a mesmerizing world, a death-defying adventure, and a heart-racing romance that will consume you, hold you captive, and leave you wanting more.

471 pages, Hardcover

First published October 1, 2008

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About the author

Kristin Cashore

28 books16.2k followers
Kristin Cashore grew up in the northeast Pennsylvania countryside as the second of four daughters. She received a bachelor's degree from Williams College and a master's from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College. She currently lives in the Boston area.

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Profile Image for Krystle.
913 reviews335 followers
June 15, 2022
Edit (6/14/2022): This review was written a long time ago when I was a lot younger. Not sure if I'd feel that strongly now as I did back then but for those who didn't want to read the length of it...

tl;dr: Katsa was annoying af with an atrocious attitude, horse abuse, and uncreative world building without strong writing.

Graceling has a beautiful cover, great premise, and lots of hype, and would be a terrific novel if it weren’t for the writing and atrocious main character.

What is with the awkward sentence structures and prose in this book? "In these dungeons the darkess was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind." It should be "In these dungeons, the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind." And look at the next sentence: "One that had so far proven to be correct, as Oll's maps tended to do." What? That made absolutely no sense. Instead: "One that had so far proven to be correct, as Oll's maps tended to be." Wouldn't that be better?

Then later on... "Turning when it was time to turn..." What? Isn't that redundant? And: "She began to hear voices as she entered a corridor where the darkness flickered orange with the light of a torch set in the wall." Dude, darkness does not flicker orange, if it did then that would not make it dark. And it's not with the light of a torch, but light from a torch. That whole sentence is just full of awkward phrasing and clunky description.

And the next: "Katsa crept toward the light and the sound of laughter." How can she creep toward laughter when it wasn't even introduced earlier? It just does not get any better. And later on, she pulls her hood down over her eyes. What the hell. How do you expect to fight if you can't see where the heck you're going or what you're doing. It's not a surprise she trips over the four guards because OBVIOUSLY, you can't see anything! Why does she need to pull her hood down to hide her eyes when the guard she fights later ALREADY KNOWS WHAT SHE IS? Okay, that's it. I'm done.

But the biggest offense of the book was the main character.

Katsa is the most annoying, aggravating, self-centered, abusive, and violent character I’ve ever had the misfortune to read from the eyes from. I thought Bella was tops (in annoying meter ranking), but Katsa wins the prize. During the book there were many instances where I wished I could rip her hair out and run her through with her own sword.

She has some of the big Mary Sue tendencies. It wasn’t so bad that she was Graced with some special ability but hers was off the wall unbelievable that I couldn’t give her any sort of realistic credibility at all. Not only can she kill anyone with her bare hands, she’s faster than anyone, builds fire better than anyone, hunts better than anyone, shoots and fires arrows better than anyone, yet she doesn’t suffer from the freezing cold as the rest of her comrades - it just slows her down when other normal people would be down on the ground dying from hypothermia. She doesn’t even tire like the rest of them because she just has unending bundles of stamina. So much so that she can go for days without sleeping even though they were in some pretty gruesome and difficult battles... And the list goes on. I mean what can Ms. Perfect not do? And don't give me that crap about how it's logical because of her special grace. There's a special balance between believable and ridiculous, and I'm sorry, but this is way over into the ridiculous area.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. Katsa’s most nonredeemable factor was her attitude.

No one can tell her to do anything she doesn’t want to do even if it’s for the wiser. And if she doesn’t like what she hears, her first reaction is anger, and then she throws a tantrum until she gets her way. But yet, every situation she finds unappealing to her, the first though that comes to mind is violence. I clearly remember a scene where Po told her his opinion which wasn’t demeaning, cruel, or hurtful at all, and you know what she does? Hits him so hard he falls off his chair and has a wicked bruise. W-T-F. And not only that, her characterization is inconsistent. She’s supposed to be this bad ass chick who takes no crap from anyone and doesn't need a man in her life to define her but as soon as Po enters and tells her he’s going to leave she cries tears because she “doesn’t know why”? What the hell kind of crap is this? And what is her utter revulsion to marriage? I mean, I don’t want to get married as well but Katsa’s reasoning behind this is not concrete or sufficient enough to support her viewpoint that she vehemently defends many times throughout the book. Not bringing children into this world, yes, I totally get it and understand but marriage? Especially when Po is searching for a sign of commitment on their relationship. If she did not want to marry him or anyone in particular she could supplement this in other ways but she doesn't.

I was absolutely disgusted, disgusted , by the way she treated her horses. She treats them as a way to serve her own self-satisfying needs without care. The first instance that stuck me was when Po and Katsa were riding off somewhere and she slammed her horse against Po's because she wanted to get his attention. W-T-F! Not only is that dangerous to the rider because they could fall off, but it's dangerous to the horse! Slamming into another horse while you're riding is NOT something you do. The horse could have fallen because the impact threw him off balance, and you're obviously not going to walk away from that injury free, or it could have tripped and then fallen. Not to mention she ALWAYS pushes her horses to ride fast because she has no patience and wants to get there faster, and if someone tells her they needed to rest the horses or they'll break them, she just throws hissy fits about how they have to hurry and they're just slowing her down. Horses are not machines, good god! They're living, breathing animals that need care just like we do!

The next one was near the end of the book where she pushed everyone so hard, and rode for hours at a blistering gallop just so they could reach their destination faster. And then I clearly remember someone, Skye, I believe it was telling her that she lamed a horse. And you know what Katsa’s response to this was? “Oh, he’s not lame! He’s perfectly fine” and then throws a fit about how he’s slowing them down and they need to get up and ride him harder so they can get to their destination faster. OMFG! I almost threw the book across the room in rage.

The place names were very uncreative. You might think they’re clever but they were shallow attempts at trying to make them seem more “fantasy” epic-like. They were just barely concealed renamings of East, West, South, North, and Middle. And I didn’t even get started on the writing. It was super choppy, suffered from an annoying excess of repetitive phrasing, and without a lot of “showing”. The structure was all the same. Katsa went and did this, did that, felt this, and so on and so forth. Another problem was the insane amounts of info-dumping in the beginning. After the third page, I just couldn’t give a rip about the places’ history, what it looked like, who was who’s father.

I can see why a lot of people love this book. There’s romance, a super strong female character that kicks butt, and the tried and true quest/adventure formula of a fantasy novel. But it’s just not for me. I absolutely hate not finishing a series so I’ll probably read the next one, but ugh, not looking forward to it.

My opinion? Avoid this book. I may probably be stoned to death for this review because every where I go it seems to be so well loved and praised with glowing reviews.
Profile Image for Miss Clark.
2,552 reviews200 followers
October 29, 2009
I wanted so badly to like this book. It has so much going for it. It is original and inventive. I never once caught myself thinking, "Now, where did I read that before? Oh, right, in the last three books!" The idea of the graced, their skills and their mismatched eyes; of the seven kingdoms; of the characters themselves. All of them were uniquely Cashore's own. Her prose was clear and lucid, though there were passages that dragged and made me want to skip ahead. So, pacing was occasionally a problem, but not the actual words themselves. I thought it quite notable, especially as a debut.

However. Yes, that dreaded however.

But before we get to that, a quick disclaimer. I certainly have no say on what Cashore did or did not intend the book to say. I only can say with certainty what I find in the book and I hope you can agree that if, in addition to great writing and engaging stories, one desires one's reading material to have at the very least some simple ethics, it is more than reasonable that some readers will discuss and debate the ethics and social mores that certain features of this book present. Personally, I appreciate being able to discuss something that a book mentions and which allows me to think of it in an entirely different light.

I am fully aware that many might feel that this review is biased and unfair, written from a narrow-minded, hidebound mentality. How dare I allow my personal convictions to color my view of a book I read? Especially a fantasy book that clearly takes place in a world that is not this one. But before you comment to let me know that I am a horrible disgrace and disappointment as a human for allowing my personal convictions to color my view of a book that I have read, please take a moment to know that I am not allowing any comments on this review. I had nearly 50 comments on this review and I ultimately chose to delete them when the vitriolic, contemptuous comments kept coming. For those of you whose opinions differed, but who chose to share that contrary opinion with civility and tolerance, I would like once more to extend my sincerest thanks, especially to Ariel and Angie. For the others that commented to agree or say thanks for the review, I hope it helped.

So, back to that however. My issue is that firstly, what Po and Katsa have is not love. Infatuation? Certainly. Affection? Sure. But love, "true love," is wanting what is best for the other person and doing whatever one can so that the other is able to move toward the best. Thus, love is at its core sacrificial and giving. What is the purpose of Katsa's and Po's sexual relationship? It is of transient emotional and physical benefit, but how does it benefit them ultimately? I don’t believe that love equals sex, and the book seemed to infer just that.

But say she did love him. I'm all for girl power and females don't need a guy to be fulfilled. All for that. I even understand that at that point in Katsa's life she had just claimed her freedom and could not imagine entering any other station of life that would in any way limit or curtail her personal liberty. All well and fine. But then she goes ahead and enters into a physical relationship with a guy because she "loves" him, but just can't ever be "married" to him because that would limit her sense of self and her own freedom to come and go as she pleased. Granted, the concept of marriage within the confines of that secondary world might differ, it could be a total abnegation of self, but I never got that sense when they talked about marriages in their society. In fact, at its core, marriage (in our world) is a contract of personal commitment between two people, but Katsa, while perhaps legitimately shunning marriage in her world, still has no desire to ever commit to Po in any way. So it would seem that Katsa's issues had way more to do with herself and her own flaws and insecurities than the idea of commitment or even Po. Given his affection for her, he would never have limited her freedom. But flip the coin. What if it was Po who “loved” Katsa, but refused to marry her because then he would not be free? Where he was the one who would take whatever Katsa had to offer, but did not care enough to actually make any sort of commitment to her? That likely would not go over as well. It is strange what a double standard we have in relationships, esp. in a "feminist" age. We praise novels that show females as strong, independent individuals, even if that means they are also selfish and controlling, while we quite rightly condemn that sort of behavior in male protagonists. But then not only are we giving a sad view of a "strong" woman, as if that is the only way to portray a vibrant and intelligent female, we are also touting a weak and ineffective masculine image that indicates that no male can be resourceful or a leader or else he is preventing the girl from being who she ought to be free to be...etc. When we did we stop striving for an ideal where both men and women complimented each other, each being allowed their own strengths, and being equals rather than always rivals and competitors?

So, again, a talented new author, but I have deep reservations about some of the messages in this book and I doubt I will recommend it to many people. Which is a shame considering the quality of the rest of the story, which is easily three stars for the prose, though the plot had a few spots that seemed out of place.

Graceling never seemed like it should have been a love story (much less a hook-up), and I was loving it as a fine fantasy/ personal growth novel, but once they brought in the romantic/ anti-romantic elements, it lost me.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Kat Kennedy.
475 reviews16.3k followers
May 30, 2010
Graceling by Kristin Cashore follows in a burgeoning market for strong female characters.

Katsa is much like Katniss from The Hunger Games in her naive perception of the world, her coldness and tendency towards pragmatic practicality. She is similar to Xhex from the Black Dagger Brotherhood in her disgust of all things "feminine".

The story is well written, with engaging, fun characters. Katsa is fun to read about. The plot may be a little predictable at times but it did throw me a curve ball toward the end.

The romance is lovely between Katsa and Po.

I take exception though, to the message that this book sends. It is the same message I am reading over and over again in current literature.

From Bella Swan who looks down on girls who like shopping, to Xhex who must be wrestled into a dress and who sees all signs of emotion as feminine weakness and now Katsa who refuses to marry or have children and who despises dresses and long hair.

Message to authors: It is not nice dresses and pretty hair and an ability to be weepy on occasion that is the cause for the many inequality issues that women face. Putting a woman in pants does not change how the world perceives her. It doesn't suddenly make her stronger and better than the woman in the dress who likes jewelery!

Your character does not suddenly become the beacon of the feminist movement because she doesn't like dresses. So sick of reading about "strong, independent female characters" who don't like dresses and spend most of the novel putting down almost every other female character as weak and pathetic.
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews157k followers
June 9, 2021
When a monster stopped behaving like a monster, did it stop being a monster? Did it become something else?
Authors, take note: This is YA Lit done right.

Katsa is a monster. She's been one ever since she discovered the power of her killing Grace. Only...she starts to wonder, does she have to be?

In the Graceling Realm, those born with heterochromia (different colored eyes) are blessed with a Grace.

A Grace can be anything from the mundane (i.e. holding your breath indefinitely) to the cruel (i.e. mind control).

Katsa has been "blessed" with a killing grace. Ever since she was a child, she could murder at the slightest touch.

A Gracling born into her kingdom is automatically offered to the King (her uncle).

Under his thumb, she murdered, tortured and struck horror across his lands and the seven kingdoms.

However, as she grew older, she became less comfortable in her own skin. So, she formed an alliance with sympathizers and started moonlighting as a hero.

When a mysterious prince - one with a silver eye and a gold eye and graced with fighting - visits to her kingdom, she finds herself questioning everything she's ever done.

First off - abso-freaking-lutely loved this premise. The powers, the squabbling kingdoms, the atmosphere. YES.
Mercy was more frightening than murder, because it was harder.
Second off - I loved Katsa's strength.

She's far stronger than any man in the kingdom - but the writing and the characterization is done so well that she never dips a toe into Mary Sue territory nor does she get thrown into the self-sacrificing-woe-is-me category.

She's a badass who's earned her credentials. And, I adore her sass:
Perhaps I can stay by the fire and mend your socks and scream if I hear any strange noises.
Third off - I loved the love.

There was no falling in love at first sight, no shoe-horned love triangle and NO weird YA boy smells.

I adored between Katsa and her beau (Po) and I will defend their love to my dying day.

They have such a stable, healthy relationship (something that is woefully in short supply in YA).
Katsa sat in the darkness of the Sunderan forest and understood three truths. She loved Po. She wanted Po. And she could never be anyone's but her own.
If you are in the mood for quality YA lit - pick this series up.

This is my fourth read through and I loved it as much as the first.

The 2018 PopSugar Reading Challenge - A book about a villian or antihero

Audiobook Comments
Holy mother of pearl. Full cast audio production - each character had a different actor/actress, there was music between chapters AND the kid voices sounded really realistic. An absolute pleasure to listen to.

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Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
July 3, 2020
July 2020: I cannot look at my original review for this book anymore. It's time it went under a tag. I won't delete it because it's sorta fun (and deeply embarrassing) to look back on the silly things I thought when I was younger. But I don't believe almost all of the things I wrote 9 years ago. If I ever do a reread, I'll write an updated review.

Old review posted 7th May 2011:
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,097 reviews17.7k followers
March 16, 2022
When a monster stopped behaving like a monster, did it stop being a monster? Did it become something else?

When I was ten through when I was twelve, I used to travel to see extended family multiple times a year, flying across the U.S. to do it. I owned Graceling, and a collection of other YA fantasy books, on Kindle. I would reread this book every single time I flew because it meant so much to me. This is one of my most reread books of all time, and it was such a big influence on both what I write and what I love to read, and I love and appreciate it more every time.

Graceling opens as Katsa, a character graced with the skill to kill people—literally, actually murder them—puts a group of guards out cold rather than killing them while trying to rescue a falsely imprisoned old man. She then returns to her palace, where she is thought of and treated as a weapon for a cruel king. She thinks of herself as a dog, and a brute, and an idiot, until she and a new friend move to track down the answers to a mystery dogging a nearby kingdom.

Katsa prizes her mind: it is the only she has ever had to herself. One of the first things we learn of her is her hatred for mind readers, and while this serves a plot purpose, it also ties in well with her other fears: Her body and power has for so long been Randa’s, as a weapon. But she is not a weapon. Though Katsa could, and would, kill the bad guy to survive a horror movie, she also does the right thing, or tries. She cares for other people, in her own stubborn and angry way. To move anywhere beyond her own self-image, she must go from thinking of herself as a killer, a monster, a weapon, to thinking of herself as a justice-seeker. She must find love (Po), and allow herself to care for those around her (Bitterblue). And she must go from thinking of her talent as a curse to thinking of it as a tool. The graces are a neutral element—both good and bad, depending on their use.

The thing about the climax of Katsa's character arc is that it isn’t defined by violence: it’s defined by Katsa regaining power over her mind.

It’s a bit of a subversion of the chosen one narrative, because though her power saves her many times along the way, in the final moment, it isn’t her grace that saves her but her mental strength. Herself.

Katsa is a genuinely funny narrator, who causes problems on purpose, and has absolutely no people skills except when she tries really, really hard. I think traits like this can be frustrating in a narrative because so often they're used as lazy plot devices. Katsa’s badness with people is never a plot device, never something we see her as stupid for. She’s just hilarious.

“Wonderful,” Po said. “It's quite boring really, the way you beat me to death with your hands and feet, Katsa. It'll be refreshing to have you come at me with a knife.”

♖ The romance is pitch-perfect. Some of you may know that I'm a bit picky around romance plots, but Katsa and Po are... frankly the book couple. Their interactions are hilarious; Po is a genuinely good guy, rather than being a Tough Scary Bad Dude, and he's a dynamic character on his own.

Cashore also does so well by all her side characters. Bitterblue is an entertaining and dynamic character, and in fact, she gets her own book later on. Po, Raffin, and Giddon are all incredibly vivid characters [and they all get more later]. It's kind of incredible how human all of these characters are, how they never feel like plot devices.

♜ I love an engaging narrative. I think the plot is really interesting - it's not exactly twisty, but you never jump ahead of the characters in what you figure out - and although much of the book is spent on a journey, there's so much character and relationship building that I never got bored. (I have literally read this book, what, over twenty times?) I also love Cashore's writing; it feels so classic fantasy in a good way? God. Fucking love it.

The Graceling series also contains a character who I consider to this day to be one of the most genuinely terrifying villains in the YA canon. His presence stalks all three books of this series in different ways—in one after he’s dead—but he never ceases to terrify me.

♖ This book features a genuinely strong and developed gender non-conforming woman as a protagonist, who does not get married, with a really great lady friendship at its heart. I would love if people would stop being upset by the first two of those points.

To be quite honest, the fact that some reviewers have decided Katsa not being feminine is a problem rubs me the wrong way. I love that you lend your support to feminine heroines, but identifying having any women who don’t conform to femininity as “the not like other girls trope” is actually just misogynistic. It’s also not an accurate view of what that trope is. First of all, not-like-other-girls is meant to denote heroines who actively shit on feminine women (which does not happen in this book). But more importantly, I hate so much that literature for women is a double-bind: you have to be feminine, but also hate femininity and those who express it. Katsa is genuinely not feminine-presenting. I wrote a whole post about this. Gender non-conforming women are not taking over your literature; feminine women who also hate femininity are.

“But no amount of humility or respect made it any less horrifying to lose control.”

Katsa, as a character, does not want to get married. She specifically does not want marriage, as stated in the text, because any freedom Po could give her would be just that: given. She’s a character who is terrified to cede control of herself to someone, not when she has just escaped that, and the narrative—and her lover—don’t force her to do so.

I have seen far too many people complain about this book's “raging feminist agenda��. Okay? A woman makes choices that are realistic to her character? Deeply lukewarm take.

♜ On a side note, remember in like, 2010, when YA was a hellscape and you had to like, beg for just one side character of color? Let me run this book, published in 2008, down for you: gnc woman helps save a biracial woman of color from persecution while falling in love with disabled man of color because he recognizes that she will always feel the need to be the strong one. [I will also note that after getting criticism for the use of a slightly ableist trope surrounding one blind character, she apologized in her author's note and improved his treatment in later books.] Book two: bi black woman, survivor of abuse and rape, falls in love with black man because he's good to her and treats her like a person rather than a possession. Book three: biracial woman dealing with ptsd tries to rule a kingdom while falling in love with a bi man of color and also, fighting for a return to her old culture and to freedom of the press with the assistance of her many gay friends [including three side characters from this book and two lesbians who run a print shop].

♖ Oddly, one of my favorite parts of this series is how different and awesome each book is . Graceling is an action-adventure story about redemption and self-hatred. Fire is a political story about agency, rape culture, and abusive relationships, both domestic and parental. Bitterblue is a slow-burn mystery, character study, and bildungsroman about a nation growing up and letting go, all wrapped in one. All three of these books are executed so well that your favorite will depend mostly on what themes touch you the most. For me, Graceling and Bitterblue [which I reviewed here hey hey hey] are the standouts to me personally, but they're honestly all great. The love I have for this series is so neverending.

In summary: this book honestly still has me by the throat in 2020, and is one of my favorite books of all time, and I wish that we could pay it its dues.

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Profile Image for Rhea.
215 reviews76 followers
June 30, 2013
What I think about when I hear the name...

- Po the Panda
- Po from Telletubbies
- A crazy guy (like Edgar Allen Poe)
- Poo

- Ketchup
- Mutant Katniss

- Roar! I'm a T-Rex!

- Tea Leaf

- Skype
- A modern name, which you will NOT find in a medieval place.

King Randa:
- Ranting + Panda. King Ranting Panda!

- Drowsy
- Drowning

- Pig pen
- Thinking pen

- Lick
- Peck
- Neck
- Smack
- Some other variation

- An insult. ("Hey, you Lienid!")

By the way, Po's real name is Greening Grandemalion. Great, at least its not Yellowing Grandemalion or Purpling Grandemalion or something stupid like that. That would sound really weird, unlike Greening Grandemalion, which is a name someone would normally give to their child. Yeah...

If you have any more suggestions about what the names from Graceling sound like, feel free to put it in the comments!

Note: Next up is the review, which is very thorough about the issues of Graceling's worldbuilding. This is going to take a while, but stay with me. Thanks.

Actual Rating: 2.5 stars

When reviewers criticize Graceling, they often complain about the view on feminism. I think enough has been said about that, so for detailed reviews about that issue, I recommend Amanda's review and Tatiana's review.

However, this isn't Graceling's only flaw. The other big problem is the black-and-white world-building.

World of Graceling

Graceling is set in a european-ish medieval land with horses, taverns, kings, castles, and anything else you would except to find in such a place. The land is divided into seven kingdoms: Lienid (the island kingdom), Monsea (a kingdom closed off by the mountains), Middluns (the middle kingdom), and Nander, Estill, Sunder, Wester, which surround Middluns on the North, East, South, and West side, respectively. (See what Cashore did there?) Another aspect is the Graced; some people are born with special abilities called "Graces" such as mind-reading, excellent swimming skills, killing, etc. There is great prejudice against the Graced (except in Lienid) and one can tell if another person is Graced if the person's eyes are mismatched colors. (Random comment: One of my friends has eyes like this. It's a condition called heterochromia iridum. But sadly, my friend has no superpowers. :( ) Anyways...

I think we can all agree that European medieval worlds are definitely overdone; nearly every epic fantasy or high fantasy is set in one! However, authors can still make them fresh if they add complexity to them with new aspects or intriguing history.

Examples of Fresh, Intriguing Worlds

For example, in Cinda Williams Chima's Seven Realms, the generic fantasy world is made fresh by complex struggles between Gray Wolf Queens, Clan, and Wizards. There is a well-developed and unique culture in the world, stemming from the struggles between Clan and Wizards, and the history is complex and believable.

Another example is The Well Between the Worlds. It is a retelling of the King Arthur tale, set in a medieval world, but adds the elements of the Wells, the sinking of Lyonnesse, and industrialization to make a breathtakingly fresh and original world.

So, what's the matter with Graceling's world?

Why Graceling's World-building Simply Isn't Good Enough

First off, there are only a few fresh aspects of this world:

1.) The idea of the Graced
2.) Some cultural aspects of the Lienid (like the gold jewelry, Po's tattoos, and the ring/inheritance thing.

...and that's pretty much it.

But there's got to be more! Anything! Tell me, is there...

A religion? No.

History? (Like references to why the kingdoms are how they are, etc?) Nope.

Mythology/legends/stories about old heroes, Graced, etc.? No.

Unique cultural aspects? None.

Anything that separates the world of Graceling from other fantasies? I'm sorry, but there is, other than the Graced, nothing original here.

Okay, okay, we get it! Nothing new here! But sometimes, generic fantasy worlds are complex. There are complex issues, complex characters, and complex motivations which make up for the lack of originality. In fact, a world lacking new ideas sometimes portrays old ideas in a new light! What about Graceling? Is there any complexity?

Lack of complexity in Graceling

Part One: The Inhabitants of the world


- The villain, Why is he evil? Because he is! What does he do? Torture animals! He even He is so EEEEEVIL!
- King Randa. Poor Katsa! Her EEEEEEVIL uncle is making her kill people! Does he feel the slightest guilt or remorse? No! Does he have a good reason for this? Yes, so he can be even more powerful! MWAHAHAHAHA!
- Those other kings! (Except for King Ror, who is good.) They are always squabbling over borders and killing poor peasants and stuff. How horrible of them! They are so EEEEEVIL! And one of them even

MEAN people

- Basically, everyone non-Graced. They just don't understand what it's like! Now that I think about it, all of Katsa's friends are either Graced or have a family member who is Graced (or are Lienid). The only exception is Oll.
- Giddon. He is so condescending! And he doesn't understand Katsa! And he's so stupid, he thinks he can protect her! Even when she can kick his ass! This portrayal bugs me, because it feels like a gimmick to show how good Katsa is, and how she deserves a good man in her life, and blah blah blah.


- Katsa is forced to kill people by her uncle. But wait, she is really good! Don't believe me? She created an organization called The Council, which does nice stuff! She is so angelic! Admittedly, Cashore did give her a few personality flaws, but not enough. I mean, when you can kill and entire army without even a sword, wouldn't you be extremely selfish and extremely spoiled? I admit, I would be.
- Po. He is SOOOO noble! He still loves Katsa even if And his secret is OK. Yes, Katsa is mad, but he is SOOOOOOO nice she doesn't care.
- Lienid people! They are so nice to the Graced! They respect them 'n stuff.
- Everyone not in the MEAN or EEEEEVL section. They are brave, noble, etc. No one is ever a mixture of good and evil.

Part Two: The World Itself

The world of Graceling lacks nuance. When you look at the history of Europe, there are ancient alliances, complex relations, etc. between the countries. Not to mention, the citizens of each country see themselves in one way and see people from other countries in other way. There are stereotypes, symbols, legends, and histories that may or may not be real. (And not just in Europe, everywhere.)

I was expecting well-developed relations between the kingdoms and between normal people and Graced people. I mean, Katsa and Po have to travel across many countries and I wanted to see them struggle against prejudices and stereotypes.

However, they had had it extremely easy. Here is the extent to which all the relationships were developed:

- Normal people hate the Graced! (For no apparent reason) All you see is a strong dislike, no complex feelings. (For example, being in awe of their powers, yet feeling jealous)
- Kingdoms fight over borders. That is pretty much it. Their only dislike comes from border squabbles.

And... that's about it.

Anyways, reading Graceling was an underwhelming experience. I mean, the first time I read it, I was in middle school, and even then I was disappointed!

Recommendations: Many people loved this book. You might too, if you:
1.) Love a good kick-ass heroine
2.) Are looking for a fun adventure
3.) Want lots of action in your fantasy
4.) Love reading about kind, noble men in love with misfit girls

But you might not if you:
1.) Are looking for a deep exploration of feminist ideas
2.) Require complex, original world-building
3.) Need complex characters
4.) Want a complex plot

Final Comment: Graceling isn't a bad book. For me it was 2.5 stars (2.5 = a little more enjoyable than "meh") There is some decent character development, some exciting action, and a somewhat original plot. Also, other than the overwrought feminism, Graceling doesn't have any big flaws that might insult the reader and completely ruin the reading experience. There was also some humor and some quotable moments, my favorite being,

“When a monster stopped behaving like a monster, did it stop being a monster? Did it become something else?”

during a moment of poignant character introspection. (Speaking of that, there were some great ideas concerning what it means to be a monster.) All of this made Graceling an OK book. However, Graceling feels like an edited draft - there are good ideas, good editing, but nothing is really fleshed out. Let's hope in future books, Cashore spends more time on her story.


- For a complex fantasy, Seven Realms is an terrific four-book series. Book 1 (The Demon King) is mostly a set-up book, with fantastic world-building, but familiar (and somewhat cliche) characters. Book 2 (The Exiled Queen) is great; the characters deepen, and the plot thickens. Book 3 (The Gray Wolf Throne) is absolutely stunning; intricate plotlines come perfectly together, characterization is amazing, and the tension is almost unbearable. And Book 4 (The Crimson Crown) is the kind of book so jaw-droppingly amazing, you feel like crying just because the book ENDED.

- For a (urban-ish) fantasy/Para-Normal Romance, (don't worry, there romance isn't annoying]) with a totally kick-ass heroine, original world-building, and gorgeous prose, check out Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.

- For a short, rich fantasy (that won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award) with a strong heroine who is selfish (but gets better) and has a coming-of-age story, I recommend Franny Billingsley's The Folk Keeper. There is also an exciting mystery (with more than one twist), and just the tiniest dash of romance. Plus, as a bonus, the prose is lovely.

- I've heard that the The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner are fantastic, especially those after book 1 (The Thief.) I admit, I have not read them yet, but book 1 won the Newberry Honor medal, and many "picky" reviewers say they are fantastic.

- The Well Between the Worlds by Sam Llewelyn is also a terrific, original novel. Yes, it is a children's book (ages 10+) but so was His Dark Materials. And just like His Dark Materials, TWBTW is sophisticated, well-written, and a lot of fun. And isn't it said that a good children's book can be enjoyed by adults as well?

Anyways, I hope this review helps anyone thinking about whether or not they should read Graceling.

Random: Those of you not familiar with the Teletubbies theme song, this might seem weird. But I hope you can sympathize with my frustration with the Graceling names.

So, here is a parody:

Profile Image for Penny.
215 reviews1,367 followers
September 9, 2016
Updated 04/01/14:

I happen to like books which feature kick-ass feminist heroines and are light on the romance so I should like this book, right?

Yeah, but I don't.

First of all, Katsa acts like a petulant little girl throughout the entire book, not some strong feminist poster woman. Katsa shows very little, if any, personal growth over the course of this novel. Also, I felt like the author spent too much time trying to sell us on the following ideas: femininity is an idea forced upon women by the patriarchy, men don't respect women, commitment ruins relationships, marriage is a tool of the devil, and so on.

Look, I understand that some women feel that way, and I'm completely cool with it. I'd be lying if I claimed that I've never thought some of the same things during my lifetime. That said, I hate how the author seems to be shoving very specific views down my throat instead of telling me a story that challenges me to think for myself.

This book is written in such a way that it makes me think Cashore, the author, is using her character, her story as a vehicle to voice her very strong opinions. Don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily have a problem with that sort of thing, it's just that this book is being touted as 'feminist' but I fail to see true feminism within the pages of this book. I mean, I guess you could consider it a version of feminism, but it's not very inclusionary. In fact, it's a very bigoted version of feminism.

Other than Katsa every other woman in this book is portrayed as weak and dumb. So basically unless you're an angry, dress-hating, man-hating woman with an aversion to commitment there is something wrong with you.

News Flash: femininity isn't anti-feminist. I'm sorry but it is possible for independent, intelligent and stable women to embrace femininity without losing credibility. And anyway, isn't that the point of the feminist movement? Gaining equality without having to act like 'one of the guys'? I mean, sure, you can reject femininity if you want, but don't go around assuming that those who are feminine are pathetic weakling losers who do nothing to help the cause.

It just so turns out that line of thought is backward and does nothing to advance the cause.

Also, Katsa's view of other women in the realm is quite condescending in that she never seems to consider how privileged she is compared to some of these other women. Katsa's lucky in that she has the ability to kill pretty much anyone she wants so it's not like she has to do a damn thing anyone tells her to do. Despite all the crap she supposedly has to put up with, Katsa has benefitted from an education and she's also afforded more freedoms than most women because someone else pays her bills. She doesn't have to milk the cows or churn butter or become a serving wench. She doesn't have to prostitute herself out in order to make ends meet.

Girlfriend needs to shut the hell up about all that because it's not like she's doing anything other than making a-hole observations. Katsa's not doing anything to change the way all women in the realm are treated, which is fine, it's her life, whatever. She just needs to quit it with the judgmental attitude toward others who can't afford to live or think the way she does.

I could have handled Katsa's aversion to having a relationship with Poe if she hadn't had any feelings for him, or if she knew she wasn't emotionally ready to make any sort of commitment. But no, Katsa's aversion to commitment was built up do be some great personal strength of hers.

In the end it just felt like she ('she' being Katsa. Or Cashore. Kat-Shore?) was trying to prove a point or something, like "look at how independent I am. I'm not a barnacle. I don't need a man...except for when I needs teh sex. So Poe, my lover, sorry you lost your sight and all but I'll prolly be drunk-dialing you in the future, cause I am comfortable with my sexuality. kthanxbai." *sob* "Walking away is waaaaay hard, which is why I am so strong." *sob* "Grrrrrrrrrrrrrl Powerrrrrr!"

Yeah, because being in a loving, trusting, equal and committed relationship isn't a sign of strength. Strength can only be had by loners who don't like to commit because doing so will supposedly lower their self-worth ...ummm....I mean..."independent" people.

Also, it has to be said: The love scene grosses me out as much or more than the sex scene(s) in Titanic and/or Avatar. Some people just don't know how to write a love scene. James Cameron and Kristin Cashore are among that group.

One last thing: why is it that no one seems to have an issue with Katsa hitting Po, literally knocking him to the ground so hard that he bruises? All he did was voice his opinion, that's it. Had the tables been turned, had Po hit Katsa for voicing her opinion, you people would be unbelievably angry. I'm sure some of you would be burning Cashore in effigy.

Let's do a little more of this whole turning tables thing. Pretend that Katsa is actually a male character and Po is female. Okay, how much do you love this new topsy-turvy version of Graceling? Not very much, you say? Yeah, I thought so.

If you ask me Katsa is one of the least deserving protagonists. She's a violent, judgmental a-hole who shows little to no personal growth over the course of this entire book. I don't care if she had a difficult childhood, having a difficult childhood doesn't mean you have to go around inflicting the worst parts of yourself on others. Having a difficult childhood doesn't give you license to be an awful person.

Two stars because the concept was cool. Too bad it was poorly executed.
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
June 24, 2018
it is so hard to write reviews for books i actually like. no, love.

talking about this book is like trying to describe to someone a relationship from long ago that was bittersweet and is now over, but i have never had a relationship that involved so many horses and swordplay, not even metaphorically. and fewer people care about my love life than about this book.

(i see you ariel - you are glowering at me with tiny slitted eyes)

but this book is like a wonderfully sweet relationship. at the beginning, you can't even imagine how you ever got along without it.and your friends (ariel) try to talk you out of it "oh, don't get with that guy, he gave me herpes" or whatever... but at the beginning everything was shiny and magical and when things started to go a little bit awry, i wrote it off as a glitch - a bad day that didn't necessarily mean that we weren't super awesome soulmates.

(because it's true - the "girl time in the mountain" sequence was the weakest, but i really thought the book rebounded to perfection afterward. we can forgive one drunken dalliance, can't we? one lapse in judgment?? what happens n graceling stays in graceling? yes?)

i just loved so much about this book - i never ever get invested in the love story side plots of these teen fiction books - i have yet to be on a "team". but this time, i fully believed in their attraction, and i really wanted these crazy kids to get together and kick ass together forever. their fighting scenes, when they were fighting each other, were hugely erotic,and for once the male lead seemed worthy in a way that others have not been. their shyness, their tenderness.... i found it very sweet. and if i was a crying type of girl, i would definitely have cried at this one.

so i am seriously bummed that the sequel is about the early life and times of king lamewad and not about anyone i actually cared about. but i will probably read it anyway, completist that i am.

and eventually, because i think i have largely abandoned this metaphor, and it is very important to follow through, even though there were bumps in the road and people got hurt and friends were less free with advice in the future, the experience was a generally positive one, and the memory lives on as an Important Time where everything seemed possible. even liking a book ariel said was bad...

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,536 reviews9,961 followers
September 6, 2017
Okay, so this was a re-read on audio and I thought it was really cool with the multiple narrators and music and stuff. But sometimes one of the voices rubbed me the wrong way and the music went from fantasy to what sounded like western music. Lol. Maybe it was just me! I still loved the book though =)


I am in love with Katsa! She is an awesome inspiration for women warriors in a book. She kicks arse and takes names. I love the fact that she doesn't care anything about marriage or having kids. She's like my hero. I need a tshirt!!! I wish I had her Grace :)

The characters in the book are so wonderful, even the evil jerks are played out very well. I was so happy when Katsa met Po! Are they made for each other or what?! I don't like what happened to Po though :(

I have a special place in my heart for Oll, Raffin, Bann, Bitterblue and Helda. These are some wonderful characters with a great family/friendship.

Katsa isn't like normal women, well that's obvious, but she doesn't care about any of the every day things women care about. She even hates her long hair because it's in her way of doing what she's trying to do :)

Katsa is Randa's mercenary and her, Oll and Giddon go out to do his bidding, although it's Katsa that dishes out the pain. After some time she starts to get tired of doing this to people. You will have to read the book to see where that goes. Giddon is a good person, he just doesn't really understand Katsa and wants too much.

I enjoyed all of the fighting and sparring between Po and Katsa. I loved when she was in a real fight too :) Not very many, but they were the best. Then again, most people would walk or run away when they saw her coming anyway. She's that bad and scary ! :)


Did I mention Katsa has some cool eyes! A lot of the Gracelings have different eyes from everyone else, but Katsa has some beautiful ones.

I am so glad I finally got to read this book, it is sooooo awesome!

Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,406 reviews11.7k followers
July 2, 2020
This is why it's so fun to revisit and reread an old book. It's amazing to remember the discourse around this novel 12 years ago. A revolutionary teen fantasy with a heroine who doesn't want to marry! and have kids! also periods and birth control are mentioned! So much debate and ranting, in which I participated too, to my embarrassment. (Should I delete my ramblings or leave my stupidity for posterity?) Does anyone care about people not committing to marriage or childbearing anymore? Certainly not me. I did find the hand-wringing about the supposed horrors of marriage a bit much here, but it's a part of Katsa's personality, so be it.

I found the fantasy setting and world-building quite sparse, if not lacking, but I still liked the simplicity of Cashore's writing and clarity of feeling she described in Graceling. Not a fave, but good.
Update 1/24/2012. I probably should already stop being surprised by the fact that every time I reread a book, I come up with something new to say (or feel) about it. Looks like my previous reading of Graceling caused a lengthy rant. Yeah, no such strong feelings this time.

This time, I was able to appreciate the writing more. It's lovely. I really love how it flows, how the sentences connect. This book stands the test of time. And it's great that it stirs so much discussion and, often, outrage.

But, but, but. On a personal level, I still disagree with some of Katsa's views. There is a paragraph in the middle of the novel that is especially jarring to my sensibilities.

If she took Po as her husband, she would be making promises about a future she couldn't yet see. For once she became his wife, she would be his forever. And, no matter how much freedom Po gave her, she would always know that it was a gift. Her freedom would be not be her own; it would be Po's to give or to withhold. That he never would withhold it made no difference. If it did not come from her, it was not really hers.

The way I see it, there is a fundamental flaw in Katsa's logic. This notion that marriage takes one's freedom, that once you unite with someone, your spouse controls you. This is not what I believe in.

I am leaving my previous review of the book too. At the moment, I don't feel as strongly about the issues I was so eager to target back then. But who knows what I will feel in a few years?


This is my second reading of "Graceling" and I found myself enjoying it probably even more than when I read it the first time. I am once again convinced that Cashore is a very talented writer with a great future ahead of her.

"Graceling" is Cashore's first novel and what a great debut it is! Now, having read her second book "Fire," I know that she is developing as a writer in many ways. This particular book is very imaginative, the idea of Graces is original (at least to me) and intriguing - I especially enjoy the fact that the Graces are never what they appear to be at first. They are complex and ever evolving. I also appreciate Cashore's writing style - it is simple, concise, but yet very descriptive and emotional.

What greatly frustrates me about Cashore's writing, and the main reason I find it impossible for myself to give her books 5 stars, is ultimate weakness of her heroines (both Katsa and Fire) and their strange and obsessive attitudes toward marriage and children.

I understand that this rant might seem like a petty nitpicking, but I guess I appreciate Cashore's writing too much to leave my personal feelings about this book unexpressed.

Reading challenge: #8
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.7k followers
June 13, 2021
this is a really good 'in the moment' kind of story. i felt pretty present and engaged whilst reading it, but i havent thought about this once since ive finished it... which makes me kinda question what i actually liked about it.

the concept of the graced is cool, but i couldnt really tell you anything about them other than they exist. the writing itself is decent, but the pacing is slow and the story drawn out. there is a satisfying ending, but the climax happens within the blink of a sentence and then everything just immediately moves on, with no time for impact.

so some good and some bad. this book is adequate entertainment for what it is, but nothing that will have a long-lasting effect on me.

3 stars
Profile Image for Vicki.
857 reviews61 followers
July 22, 2010
Gah sooo good!

Okay, I read some of the other reviews and now I feel the need to defend this book. Basically, I think it's completely hilarious how many people are shocked and appalled that 1) there is sex in this book, and 2) the heroine does not desire to get married or have children. Guess what? Young adults *do* have sex. And the idea that it's not love if you don't want to marry them, or that you shouldn't have sex until you're married is why all the poor children in your congregation are marrying the first person they have the hots for and getting divorces at 24 with 3 kids. Also, the fact that the heroine doesn't want to get married or have kids is shocking to you because EVERY OTHER WOMAN OR GIRL IN EVERY BOOK YOU'VE READ THIS YEAR is aiming for that brass ring of Mrs.-dom and 2.5 mini-Hims. Why should you be so concerned that this one book is going to crumble the foundation stones of your Evangelical God Mall? Instead of your pearl-clutching, maybe take a moment to think: wait, is it possible to have ovaries but not idealize wedded bliss? Even if your parents died young, your only parental figure uses you as a weapon, and you're basically incapable of forming bonds with people because everyone's terrified of you and always has been and as a result you're emotionally stunted? No, must just be some ranty feminist (oooooh) agenda! Blergh. Go back to your Stephenie Meyer.

Now I feel better.
Profile Image for Wendy Darling.
1,636 reviews34k followers
August 2, 2016
Loved it. Except for the raging feminist agenda.

NOTE: Since these two brief, flippant sentences have gotten so many trolls over the years, I'll just add that I support the book's feminist ideals 100%.

What I do not like is the way we're hammered over the head with the message. (The "raging" part, if you will.) It's inelegant, tiresome soapboxing that managed to annoy someone who actually agrees with the principles, so I don't know how it's going to persuade anyone who does not. Katsa's views also express the kind of feminism that seem to be extremely critical of other women's choices, which I found off-putting.

There's a lengthy discussion below where I go into my feelings further with people who are discussing in a reasonable manner, although I certainly don't need to justify my opinions to those who are only interested in telling people off on the internet. Nice job on not bothering to do 2 seconds' more research, but hey. Self-righteous outrage is so much easier.

But you know, people who don't agree with the book's feminine philosophy actually do have a right to that opinion, too. Why is it so goddamned difficult to respect that? That doesn't seem to be in the spirit of independent thinking and free will that feminism is purportedly all about.

I've come to realize that I probably shouldn't have used the word "agenda," however. As someone who believes that women are capable of carving out whatever life they want (though, I might add, Katsa is not nearly so tolerant of other women's choices) and not being as aware of how politically charged that word has become in denigrating causes/beliefs, I didn't read the same kinds of negative connotations into it that clearly others have. An unfortunate choice in words that I've come to regret.
Profile Image for Ryn.
141 reviews10 followers
August 7, 2011
This was pretty much one of the most irritating books of all time - and consistent with my idea of YA fantasy. But I fought my way through it because, goshdarnit, I picked it up at the library, dragged it home with a load of other books and groceries, and renewed it the max number of times - I was gonna finish it.

You know the kickbutt heroine who is just totally kickbutt and doesn't need no one, no way, no how, and yet loves and feels and hurts deeply and yet keeps everyone away because she is baaaaaad? Yeah, that one. I hate her.

You know the quiet, loving hero who worships the ground his heroine walks on and yet is reasonably kickbutt himself, while at the same time deferring to the heroine's wishes and not fulfilling any of his own? I hate him, too.

Katsa was a child, and I hated that she and Po meandered their way into a sexual relationship because of 'twu wuv' and the fact that she would be tied down if she married. By golly, dontcha know you don't have to be married to have sex and lead a wonderful, fulfilling life? Now imagine the situation reversed - if Po had fallen in 'twu wuv' with Katsa, but would never contemplate marriage because he thought it would tie him down and keep him from true freedom... Wow, that would be really, really sexist. And lame. But if a woman does it to the man whom she loves (and who loves her in return), it's a point for us rockin' feminists.

Please. Please. For the love of good fantasy fiction, let's write and read about realistic characters and remember that what's good for the goose is good for the gander. I would have hated it if Po had refused to marry Katsa for the reasons stated above, but neither do I enjoy it when the poor guy's just supposed to be some worthless blob waiting for her to come home from her adventures, beat him at fights, and then run off into the wild blue yonder again. Isn't marriage/love supposed to be a give-and-take between equals? If Katsa had scorned marriage in the beginning and rethought her view after learning that Po's love would never keep her bound, there would have been something to say in defense of this novel.

I suppose the idea of the Grace and the Kingdoms, etc. was good, but the childish, flat chracters and overdone prose made it a difficult, boring read that could have been halved and still felt too long. And best wishes to the youth who read this and decide that sex isn't a big deal, that it can happen as long as you KNOW you're in love (because, obviously, it's easy to know when you're that age), and that 'marriage' is a synonym for 'slavery'.
Profile Image for Kaylin (The Re-Read Queen).
425 reviews1,641 followers
June 1, 2017
4 Stars


“When a monster stopped behaving like a monster, did it stop being a monster? Did it become something else?”

I honestly didn’t know anything about this, but I'd seen it around and finally it was recommended enough. I was really surprised by the depth of this story and the characters.

The story revolves around Katsa, who lives in a world where people can be born with a ‘Grace.’ Meaning, aside from two-different eye colors, they have an exceptional skill. Katsa’s grace is killing, for which she has served as a sort of ‘thug’ for her king.


Can I just say how much I loved Po? He was such a strong, dynamic character. I really appreciated that he wasn’t weakened to further enunciate Katsa’s power—he’s just strong in different ways.

(I'm also kind of in love with him)

This is slow-burn done right. The romance didn’t spin in needless circles, but developed naturally as the characters interacted with each other more.

Overall, the plot was exceptionally creative. The world-building was handled with care and I really could picture these lands.

The villain was terrifying and well-set-up. Their skill is especially interesting and terrifying to me, and I found myself wanting more of their backstory.

There’s a really fantastic discussion regarding romantic relationships and compromising one’s self. I love how incredibly healthy I found this romance. There’s marked discussion about the differences between training/fighting and striking out in anger (which is not seen as okay). I love how Katsa starts this novel not wanting children (she doesn’t hate them—she just doesn’t want to be a mother) or to marry, and this decision remains the same despite falling in love.

Really, it’s not often for a positive portrayal of a woman who doesn’t want kids and/or views marriage as a social contract (which is even more pronounced in this world) and I really appreciated this.

Katsa's overall character arc is gradual but definite. Her development was handled exceptionally, and she really ends this book changed completely.


I had a few issues with the pacing—namely the climax seems a surprise, and there’s a lot of time spent talking afterwards.

Giddon seems to exist to represent a sort of benevolent sexism. I really appreciated the way this was portrayed, and his words to Katsa are certainly something several modern women are familiar with:

"You're not an unnatural woman, Katsa. […] You'll want babies. I'm certain of it."

What I didn’t like about Giddon was how random his feelings for Katsa seemed. She seems the exact opposite of the tradition he favors and nothing like a woman he would want running his household. I wish this had been expanded upon or given more depth, because it felt like this plot existed only to fit in such quotes.

I didn’t quite like how Po gave Katsa permission to “knock him out” when she needed time to herself, but do think he was an important decision for her to make regarding her development.

Most of the criticism I see for this seems to revolve around it being “feminist propaganda.” Which I find a little ridiculous I think the complaints are mostly about how powerful Katsa is—and I will admit she does border on being really over powered. But I found her emotions more flawed and complex, and her overall arc much more fascinating.

My main problem is that Katsa seems to be the only portrayal of a ‘strong’ woman in the story. I don’t have a problem with a woman refusing dresses and long hair and conforming to more typically ‘masculine’ standards, but I had wish it was better expressed this isn’t the only depiction of a strong woman. There are other females characters, like Bitterblue and Helda, but they don’t have near as much impact or depth.

In Conclusion:

This was a surprisingly introspective fantasy with interesting characters and worlds! I was really surprised by the depth of this book and the intelligence of the writing, though I had a few minor issues.
Profile Image for Era ➴.
217 reviews560 followers
May 4, 2022
I tried to read this twice and failed. The third time, I made myself read it.

Still didn't actually care, but I did it.

Let's see. Katsa was literally just a piece of cardboard who didn't care about anything expect beating stuff up and walking though a mountain range. Oh, also, she has speshul abilities that make her able to live through literally everything. So she's not as fragile as cardboard, which is therapeutic to stab. Katsa is immune to being stabbed. So I guess she's a rock.

Po was useless. He has pretty eyes. His Grace was cool because he could actually do shit but half the book was him talking to Katsa about his "kingdom" and his family and stuff, plus Katsa admiring his pretty eyes. Also boring. I didn't care that he vanished near the end and Katsa was all worried because "oh my God where did he go did he survive" okay honey, I don't care. I don't care about his beautiful eyes.
Oh, also he has beautiful eyes. They're silver and gold. They're beautiful.

The romance between these two didn't exist. Their personalities didn't exist either, which is probably part of the issue.

Gideon (if that's even his name?) was stupid and only existed to be the hotheaded loyal friendo guy to Katsa who tries to fight Po for her because he's ~secretly been attached~ to her for their whole childhood. Why? Who cares?

That one royal guy who was also Katsa's friend. Pretty sure he was her cousin, too. I forget his name. I think it started with an R? He was supposed to be super smart but I think he only existed to give Katsa someone to talk to during the first three chapters when she wasn't contemplating who to punch.

Bitterblue is a stupid name for the most tolerable character. She was okay. She nearly froze to death. She was quiet and smart. I think. I just remember her being cold for most of the time that she existed.

The plot was basically Katsa finally figuring out she has a brain and could probably figure out how to use said brain if she gets the chance, but she doesn't currently have the chance because her uncle is a king of a kingdom and he's using her as a weapon. Doesn't that sound familiar to literally fifteen other YA fantasy series?

And of course there was some "adventure" regarding Katsa rebelling against her uncle and running away with Po. And of course there was a love triangle between Po's silver and gold eyes and Gideon's stupidity.

And then Po and Katsa made some guess about a random thing about some enemy king (I forgot okay) and guess what they were right because not only are they badass fighter people with special eyes, they're smart.


“Lady Katsa, is it?"
"Yes, Lord Prince."
"I've heard you have one eye green as the Middluns grasses, and the other eye blue as the sky."
"Yes, Lord Prince."
"I've heard you can kill a man with the nail of your smallest finger."
She smiled. "Yes, Lord Prince."
"Does it make it easier?"
"I don't understand you."
"To have beautiful eyes. Does it lighten the burden of your Grace, to know you have beautiful eyes?”

Katsa's two personality traits: her mismatched eyes and her ability to punch people. All summed up in half an inane conversation. Why does the rest of the book exist? I don't know.

What I enjoyed:
- when Po was gone
- when Katsa learned what her Grace was after she accidentally killed a rapist guy
- when the enemy king person was killed

This book wasn't absolutely terrible. I just didn't enjoy it. It was slow, boring, and didn't have a real plot until about 75% of the way through. There was like one intense scene that I actually cared about reading. But then it was the end and I found myself completely underwhelmed.

Kristin Cashore's writing has definitely grown. Her recent book Jane, Unlimited is worth a read or two. But her fantasy writing, ironically, is her worst genre in my opinion. Even though it was this fantasy series that made her famous.

“You won't even take your bow? Are you planning to throttle a moose with your bare hands, then?"
"I've a knife in my boot," she said, and then wondered, for a moment, if she could throttle a moose with her bare hands.”

Overall, it wasn't really worth the hype, but it wasn't absolute trash.
Profile Image for Sean.
297 reviews104 followers
July 31, 2008
[This is a review of an advance copy.:]

While Cashore shows herself to be a promising writer in many respects, this book could have used a better editing job, especially with the pacing, the climax and the dénouement. Other points:

1. The dialogue she put in the ten-year-old princess's mouth was not believable in the slightest; maybe Cashore should spend some time around pre-adolescent girls to get an idea of what they really talk like.

2. The psychology of several of the characters (including Katsa, the protagonist) is described rather than motivated, which made it hard for me to follow/believe certain pivotal points in the plot.

3. The villain only appears twice, each time extremely briefly, and is never fully sketched.

4. Cashore is weak in terms of description in general. Several scenes--including the climax!--are very low on descriptive language, which had a very distancing effect.

The idea of "superheroes" in a semi-medieval setting is interesting, but it could have been handled better than it was here.
757 reviews2,349 followers
April 24, 2017
2.5 stars.

This started off really well and I was actually enjoying it, but around page 230 I started to drift away from the plot and really annoyed me because I did not like their romantic relationship. The plot started to bore me and I suddenly disliked Katsa's character after page 230 or somewhere around that.

◆I love love LOVED Katsa's character in the beginning. She's graced with the power to fight and kill unlike any human. She's a strong, badass character and I really loved and connected to her. I, too, am a tomboy who wrestles and it was nice to read about a relatable character. She was interesting and I really saw her develop throughout the novel from interesting to boring. :)

◆I loved the killing. Seriously, it's the best thing about this book.

○Spoiler??? I hated Po and Katsa's romance. I really liked them as friends, but when Po suddenly declared his love for Katsa, I MAY HAVE SCREAMED IN MY HEAD AND STARTED SWEARING ANGRILY BECAUSE NO. THEY ARE THE WORST COUPLE EVER. I saw no development in their relationship. I was just reading, then dozing off bc #bored AND BOOM, all of a sudden Po is like "I LOVE YOU" *tears stream down Katsa's face*. Literally, hated them as a couple. I HATED IT.

○Like I mentioned, this started off really well, but then around page 230 I started to drift away from the plot and started losing interest big time. The next 250? pages were a big blur of what-the-fuck-is-happening and I'm-seriously-fucking-bored. I literally tried so hard not to fall asleep, like,I WAS SO FUCKING BORED.

○The plot.
Lol, what.

Overall, I have no idea of what i just read and I'm tired as fuck right now.

5-ish years ago when I was discovering YA novels, I came across this book. I read two pages of this and then DNFed it. I don't even know what was wrong with me because this book sounds so awesome and I really hope it turns out good. (ELISE, I'M LOOKING AT YOU, lol!)
Profile Image for Jessy MelodyofBooks.
224 reviews1,552 followers
July 21, 2022
Ich möchte das worldbuilding, sowie die Charaktere und den fantasyaspekt. So hätte das ganze ein rund um gelungenes Buch sein können, jedoch drehte sich der Mittelteil etwas in Kreis und zog sich.
Das Ende fand ich aber wieder super, da es sehr ausführlich war :)
Profile Image for Ashleigh (a frolic through fiction).
461 reviews7,395 followers
August 15, 2021
Something about this book really pulled me in and made me feel all sorts of squishy emotions, despite the grit and gore of the plot. The characters won me over so quickly and I think ultimately that’s what did it for me. Combined with some of my favourite tropes and a story I was invested in, I ended up loving this one even more than expected. I can see why it’s been a favourite of so many for years now.
Profile Image for Wren (fablesandwren).
675 reviews1,506 followers
September 17, 2020
If you know anything about me, you’ll know that Shannon Hale and Gail Carson Levine are two authors that have dreamed up books that made a handprint on my childhood. They are lively and they are uplifting and they shine girls in a light that the media and history turn a blind eye to.

Well, now I am going to add Kristin Cashmore to that list.

She writes exactly like those two ladies mentioned about, but for a slightly older age group. She grasps the fairytale feel by the hand and wrote this story about a girl who is stronger than her male-counterparts and believes in being a strong, independent woman who doesn’t need a man.

That phrase couldn’t describe a character better. Katsa literally doesn’t want to get married and doesn’t want kids. She doesn’t want a politically-binding marriage where she is supposed to be on the sidelines and just support her husband and his ambitions. She wants to support her own ambitions.

Katsa is a Graceling, meaning she has two-colored eyes and has a special ability of some sort.

Her ability is death. She is an amazing fighter and she never loses. She is a gifted-killer. So what does her uncle king do with that information? He uses her to take out all of the people against him, or really anyone who won’t just do what he says.

But she doesn’t like doing what she is doing and doesn’t see a way out of it until she meets a fellow Graceling named Po. He is a skilled fighter as well, but not as good as Katsa. He has an underlining secret that could get him killed. When Katsa finds out, she isn’t sure she can trust him. But she doesn’t get a chance to find out because there are troubles in the neighboring kingdoms.

There is a king who is after a family member of Po’s and they have to find out why. And when they do... the two of them are the only ones who can put everything back the way it needed to be. Sociopaths are a real thing and I am happy someone wrote about one so well in a fantasy setting. Like what if someone so corrupt got such a powerful gift? The answer is in this book; which by the way, this king is so well written that I was scared out of my wits.

And the audio for this book is a full-cast and it was amazing. I read along to it and just found myself lost in how well it was told.

This whole story was so enchanting.

I didn’t know I needed to read this book until I was finally in the middle of it. It’s so empowering and shows you how important trust is and self-preservation and self-love. I feel as if not only women and girls need to read this, but boys and men. I would recommend this to anyone who wants a story that grabs you by the eyes and pours into your soul.


This book was so beautiful it left my heart aching. Omgsh. RTC.

- - -

My mother got me this book for Christmas last year... I figured I should read it before Christmas this year... has anyone read this series?
Profile Image for carol..
1,575 reviews8,229 followers
April 25, 2012
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 --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 reversed stars

Cross posted at http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2013/0...

Profile Image for Holly.
57 reviews38 followers
February 5, 2018

This book was not for me. It has a very pretty cover and an interesting premise, but sadly, that is where my admiration for it ends.

I really hated this author's writing style. The sentence structure and dialogue felt very juvenile to me -- at one point I checked to see if it was actually a children's book instead of YA. The writing style bothered me the most when it came to scenes involving fighting. The descriptions of the characters' actions were very clumsily written, and I had a hard time picturing what was actually happening.

Another issue I had were that there were several elements of the story that seemed silly or far-fetched. I thought the secret council was a cool concept, but I found it extremely unlikely that one of the seven kings wouldn't have heard about it given that it was supposed to be this far-reaching thing that tons of people apparently knew about.

What world-building there was in this story felt a bit lazy to me - the names of five of the seven kingdoms are just North, South, East, West, and Middle, with the spelling reworked a little bit (I mean, Wester?).

The thing about this book that I hated the most was the bratty, unpleasant, and self-absorbed main character. She's rude to people for no reason at all, and she's incredibly over-dramatic (at one point she hears someone she dislikes say her name from across the room and she throws a temper tantrum and causes a huge scene). Also, was I supposed to see her as an empowering/feminist character because she dresses in men's clothing and shuns everything that's even a little bit feminine? Because for me, thinking something is bad just because it's feminine is literally the opposite of feminism.

So, yeah, I really hated this book .
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,678 reviews5,253 followers
September 8, 2018
about six times a year, I facilitate a weekend training on being a peer support volunteer. our volunteers are often very, very different from our clients, so our training often focuses on how to bridge those differences and build a empathetic and supportive relationship. we go over many topics, include what we call "Cultural Awareness". this is a catch-all phrase and not simply about culture per se - although of course everyone hails from a particular culture, one that helps form who that person is, and that culture is a part of their personal context. but we like to move beyond that, using the concept of "Cultural Humility": approach another person's identity with the intention of learning and in the spirit of humility; a person should define their own identity because that person is the one who is most familiar with their own reality; an individual should not automatically be seen as emblematic of their culture or race or ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation or class or age or whatever. a person's perception of who they are may not parallel what other people automatically perceive about them, based on their appearance or casual, passing interactions. that difference in perception can be annoying and painful. I like to have trainees go through an exercise where they consider who they are and then consider how they have been incorrectly perceived. I use myself as an example before having them do the exercise, like so:

 photo Birthday Trip_005_zpsh6lougmr.jpg

what I loved most about this book is that it is all about this idea. this is a young adult novel, and even though this issue of perception versus reality is something that everyone at every age can wrestle with, it is of special importance to young adults because that's a particular time period of self-searching, figuring out your identity, and reacting to whatever box you may be in or whatever box others may be trying to put you in. like so:

 photo Birthday Trip_006_zpsgry2w8gg.jpg

I really appreciated Cashore's message. it's so simple and yet so important. and that message is woven throughout the book, through most of its characters, from its protagonists to the two probably-gay characters to the foolish guy who loves Katsa to the fascinating and horrendous villain. Cashore hits that message again and again; it's a message worth hitting hard. everyone has to deal with being put in a box despite knowing that their reality is not simply that box. reality is so much more than boxes and other people's perceptions of who and why you are. like so:

 photo Birthday Trip_011_zpsdbwksnis.jpg

the story itself is fun and the book was pure pleasure to read. the writing was clean and efficient. the emotions on display were resonant. the love story was actually pretty cool and not annoying. I was impressed with how Cashore illustrated her message not just with Katsa's experiences, but with what eventually happens to Po (i.e. it's not all about what you see; there's more to see than what's right in front of you). I didn't mind the unimaginative place names because it gave the book a rather timeless quality. the three powers most on display were very interesting; I particularly liked how the villain's power parallels the power many politicians have over people who just automatically buy their bullshit messages, and who then deliver that fake message to others as if it were actually the truth.

I really, really liked how Katsa's antipathy to marriage and having children, and Po's willingness to meet her halfway, were portrayed in a positive light. I am by no means anti-marriage (and neither is this story), but it was such a different sort of message for young adults that was being conveyed here. a girl (or a boy) doesn't actually have to settle down in a traditional way. a relationship does not have to be sanctified by a title to be real; you can connect deeply with someone, love someone, without being married to them. you can be your own person and that includes not being with another person for the rest of your life. you are who you are; being different and having a different kind of relationship and not subscribing to cultural norms that you aren't feeling is perfectly okay. great message... great book!
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
June 1, 2017
My teenage daughter brought this home from the library and didn't get to it soon enough, so I swiped it from her and read it in one day. It was a fun read for the most part and certainly kept my attention; I found myself making excuses to my visiting relatives in the evening so I could hole up in my bedroom and finish this novel in peace (in my defense, it was 11:30 pm and they'd been talking my ears off for two hours). That said, I have some qualms about recommending this book.

A lot has been said about Katsa, the heroine who swears never to marry or have children (but decides it's okay to take a lover). Whether or not that bothers you in a YA book is your decision, but it left me uncomfortable enough that I sat down with my daughter to have a chat about it, if she decides to read the book. Katsa's anti-marriage, anti-children attitude seemed unnecessarily stringent, and unlikely to be such a completely final decision in a very young woman, maybe 20 years old. As a result, it struck me as something that was inserted by the author for her own reasons, not as a trait that is truly integral to Katsa's character.

A few other quibbles: The kingdom names showed a dearth of creativity: Wester, Nander, Estill, Sunder and Middluns are the names for the kingdoms in the west, north, east, south and middle of the peninsula. I guess Cashore didn't want us to have to over-exert our imaginations. Some of the traveling scenes went on too long--I found myself paging ahead to see how many more pages of this misery I had to slog through. The final confrontation with the bad guy (who is really sadistic and evil; sensitive readers beware) was done and over a little too quickly for me. And finally, the "Graces" or superpowers that some of the characters have were more creative than usual, but I thought the idea that anyone blessed (or cursed) with these powers always has eyes of different colors was a little bit too cutesie and improbable. Still, I wouldn't say no to a nice pair of silver and gold eyes staring into mine.


I did like the idea of the unofficial "Council" . I also liked .

Content advisory: Sex scene with mild explicitness. Heroine kills and injures several people. There is a sadistic character who does horrible things and wants to do them to his own young child. Not recommended for younger teens or "clean reads only" readers.
Profile Image for Fernwehwelten.
323 reviews212 followers
July 31, 2022
Wie lange dieses Buch in meinem Regal gestanden hat, ohne dass ich auch nur geahnt habe, wie großartig es ist... Unfassbar.
Ein Highlight, ein Herzensbuch. Zu viel Liebe für diese Geschichte.
Bearbeitet am 26.03.2021:
Das hier wird jetzt weniger Rezension als Lobeshymne zu „Die Beschenkte“ aus dem @carlsenverlag. Sagt nicht, ich hätte euch nicht gewarnt!
„Die Beschenkte“ stand bei mir schon jahrelang im Regal und irgendwie hat es mich nie richtig angesprochen – woran es lag? Keine Ahnung. Ehrlich gesagt war ich schon mehrmals kurz davor, das Buch auszusortieren, habe es aber doch nie getan. Und dann kam @joysbellabooks, die es für einen Buddyread vorgeschlagen hat. Richtig begeistert war ich selbst in dem Moment noch nicht, habe mich am ehesten darüber gefreut, diese SuB-Leiche beseitigen zu können. Aber dann… haben wir angefangen zu lesen. Und Katsa hat mich umgehauen. Ich glaube, eine Protagonistin wie sie habe ich noch nie erlebt. Sowieso trumpft „Die Beschenkte“ mit allerhand Erzählstrategien, Handlungsverläufen und Charakterkonstellationen, die mir im Fantasy-Genre so noch nicht begegnet sind. Für mich war Katsa so etwas wie Liebe auf den ersten Blick: Kristin Cashore hat mit ihr eine unheimlich vielschichte Person geschaffen, stark und laut, aber auch unheimlich zerrissen in ihren eigenen Gedankengängen. Ihre authentische und wunderbar beschriebene Entwicklung nimmt in diesem Buch sehr viel Raum ein, was sich für mich absolut perfekt angefühlt hat. Der Plot war trotzdem niemals langweilig, lediglich anders aufgebaut als vielleicht normalerweise. Dafür waren die Emotionen zwischen diesen Seiten umso greifbarer und wirkten auch so viel echter. Katsa, Bo und Bitterblue… Danke für dieses atemberaubende Abenteuer und ich verspreche euch, dass ich mit „Die Flammende“ nicht wieder so lange warten werde. Es wartet schon im Hintergrund! Und eigentlich war es sogar perfekt, dass ich die Reiher erst jetzt für mich entdeckt habe, denn vor Kurzem ist nach schlappen 10 Jahren unverhofft ein neuer Teil erschienen… Und mir wurde zugezwitschert, dass der auch wieder übersetzt wird.
Eine kleine Randinformation: „Die sieben Königreiche“ besteht als Reihe nicht aus einer konsequent durchgezogenen Storyline, stattdessen legt jeder Teil den Fokus auf andere Protagonist*innen und auf andere Orte oder Zeiten.
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