Graceling (Graceling Realm #1) by Kristin Cashore

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. And now she is forced to work as the King's thug. But she never expects to fall in love with the beautiful Prince Po...

She never expects to learn the truth behind her Grace - or the terrible secrets that lie hidden far away...a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone (from Goodreads). 


From the synopsis, I know how stupid and cliche this book sounds. And while I went into it with an open mind, I must admit it sadly is as cliched as this suggests. 

I enjoy these kinds of books most of the time, and I am happy to read a cliche from time to time if it's done right, if you're that invested in the world and the characters that you just don't care. Unfortunately, when it's not done right, it just feels disappointing, because you can see how it could have been better, you can easily compare it to other books and you know how it could have been done better. Graceling was a book not done right, unfortunately. 

Character wise, the book could have been stronger, much stronger. Of the main cast, it seems only Katsa and Po have been given any length to flesh themselves out, and that's disappointing. You should engage with more of the world around you than your two main characters. I liked Katsa as a character, though as the book went on she just seemed to weaken. I just never get why a strong female character has to make friends and realise maybe she isn't so much of a bitch after all at the end. Why can't she make friends but still be comfortable in the knowledge she isn't like other people? Why does it seem like at the end of the book maybe she will end up getting married and having children, despite her saying throughout she doesn't want either of those things? 

Po was never really a character I warmed to. There was nothing offensive about him; he just seemed too nice. The entire book he never steps a foot wrong, is the gentleman who 'is the only guy who really understands Katsa'. It just made him feel so two-dimensional, being this good guy all the time. What little of Raffin, Katsa's cousin, we saw I enjoyed. He seemed funny, and a bit mad with his potions. Bitterblue was also an interesting minor character, who ends up with her own sequel though I'm not sure I will be reading it. 

There were enjoyable parts of the book, and times when I was really quite invested in what was happening. The first couple of chapters following Katsa's jailbreak were good, well-imagined and vivid. Her life in Randa City as the King's pet could have been really fascinating, if it had been explored more. But it felt like a backdrop to the Katsa-Po show I wasn't feeling.

Sadly, Graceling fell down with its lack of truly engaging prose or a fully-realised world. The suspense wasn't there for the second half of the book, despite all this hype of this clever villain. It was easy enough to read, but I could fell my thoughts drifting to ideas of improvement. It wasn't as engaging as I'd hoped, so sadly I probably won't continue the series. But it does get 3 stars, because I did like it, I did finish it and overall it didn't offend me. 
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