Graceling by Kristin Cashore; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Graceling

Author: Kristin Cashore

Published: September, 2009

Number of Pages: 471

Rating: 5/5

Another mega-long review. I apologize.


Katsa raised her eyebrows.

“I’m not going to wear a red dress,” she said.

“It’s the color of sunrise,” Helda said.

“It’s the color of blood,” Katsa said.

Sighing, Helda carried the dress from the bathing room. “It would look stunning, My Lady,” she called, “with your dark hair and your eyes.”

Katsa yanked at one of the more stubborn knots in her hair. She spoke to the bubbles gathering on the surface of the water. “If there’s anyone I wish to stun at dinner, I’ll hit him in the face.”


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, and in her case horrifying, 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. When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace — or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away… a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone. [From Goodreads]


This book astounded me. While incredibly gripping and nicely paced, it’s thoughtful and insanely detailed. Kristin Cashore is officially one of my favorite authors because not only can she weave plotlines like magic, but her character’s feelings are palpable. That translates into: Madeleine cried.

Katsa is an intriguing main character, a girl who embodies the concept of a strong but sensitive person. I understood her and somehow related to her predicaments though I’d never gone through anything at all similar. I respected many of her decisions and easily cheered her on. Her flaws, her temperance, her worries, her better qualities – they all combine to make a remarkably lifelike person. She’s one of my favorite female main characters.

I have to give a shout-out to Harmony, who first brought Graceling to my attention. Her enthusiastic review made me so excited to read it. One bit especially caught my attention: “I’m also skeptical of “journey stories”. Those are like traveling stories and they’re hard to achieve without it getting boring. But Kristin Cashore was amazingly at making me flip the pages faster and faster to see where Graceling would take me.”

And that was a phenomenal part of the book. I never once felt it was lagging. Every page was as engrossing as the last, either with actual action or the promise of it. The thought process behind this book must have been excruciating. I know for a fact that creating a set, even, and eventful pace throughout this book must have been a feat, but, as a reader, I was privileged enough to reap the rewards. The journey through the kingdoms and over the mountainous border between Sunder and Monsea held my attention despite the tediousness of it all. I can’t say that there was a single moment in this book that felt forced or, worse yet, lazy. From page ten, I was hooked – particularly by the strange and startling appearance of Prince Po.

Oh, Po. What is it with boys with odd P names they’d be ashamed of in real life? What is it with our reality that disapproves of weird P names? Po is the Graceling equivalent of Peeta, in my opinion.

And any equivalent of Peeta rocks.

So, although Po reminds me of the red Teletubby, I loved him. He’s a bit cocky and arrogant, but just the right amount of those two potentially-irritating characteristics to avoid the potential irritation. His general understanding and kindness make him someone incredibly fun to be around. He’s the sort of person I would love to know in real life, simply because he’s pleasant and naturally good. Toward the end, he was a bit moody, but this was all understandable, given particular circumstances that I refuse to reveal. Why? Because you really ought to read the book.

There was an array of bright and dull side characters – the dull ones being the characters you love to hate. Quite honestly, the villain of the book is fabulous. He’s immensely frightening and I somehow managed to dread and be eager for any scene in which he acted out his clever ruse. I imagine most people will find the power he holds to be terrifying and intriguing simultaneously.

Due to the fact that I don’t want to scare people away with a horrifically lengthy review, I’ll touch on only one more character – Bitterblue. How wonderfully adorable is she? As the ten-year-old, frightened girl we meet originally, she doesn’t seem particularly outstanding, though pitiful. However, as the story moves on and Bitterblue’s hilarious sophistication begins to make itself evident, there’s no way not to love and appreciate her. She makes a mighty little girl, and she’ll make a jaw-dropping adult someday. I could find no possible way not to feel for her and admire her.

The relationship between Po and Katsa seems inevitable once their friendship blooms, and I loved watching as they seemed to grow up together. I didn’t notice the transition, but somewhere along the lines, I was struck by how adult and mature Katsa’s voice was. Po and Katsa seemed to mature and learn and become more adult-like along their journey, and it was a treat to watch them shed a few of their weaknesses and grow as characters and people. In one sense, I wasn’t all too pleased with their “adultness,” and I was immensely uncomfortable with one scene – to the point that I set down the book for a few minutes before continuing.

I can’t say I’m entirely okay with the “compromise” they made, and I definitely had a few problems with the way Katsa made marriage out to be some sort of slavery. In my opinion, being married does not mean you’ve signed over your sense of self and individuality, it just means you love someone enough to make a real, hardy promise to them. However, in the end, nothing could really fog over my appreciation and love of this book.

And it sure as heck didn’t hurt that the writing was beautiful. The descriptions were flawless. I’m a sucker for fairy-tale like settings – with castles and kingdoms and whatnot, but Cashore’s world is new and undoubtedly different.

There’s one surprise nearing the close of the book that made me tear up and lean into the book, as though I might fall into their world if I pressed my face up against it for long enough, and I treasure moments of that sort – the moments when you truly feel as the character’s are feeling, to the point that you think that you must belong in the book with them.

The ending of the novel isn’t vague, as I heard one person put it, but strangely simple. I’m talking the very end here, as in the epilogue. I thought the few scenes were wonderful in that they left a bit to be imagined and gave me a sense that the characters’ lives really did go on.

Graceling is an exceptional novel, full of adventure, hardships, and most importantly, a few astoundingly unique characters you will either want to hug or punch.

9 Commentsto “Graceling by Kristin Cashore; Review”

  1. I must say that you often lead me to want to read the books you review. I bought this book last month, and I've been waiting to read it. Now I have a rather good reason for spending my time embroiled in a book: "Madeleine said it's good, so I have to read it." Eh, I'm sure I can come up with some excuse to explain why I'd choose Graceling over War and Peace. :p Great review, Rex, keep 'em coming.

    • I'm so happy that you enjoy my reviews! Graceling really is fantastic, and I'm dying for the companion book, Fire. You'd think my library would know by now that I will not wait happily for my holds. ;D I'm totally unashamed.

      • I bought Graceling and Fire in a three-for-two deal that became a six-for-four book deal, which meant that my Mum's seriously considering that whole, "floor-reinforced" thing. I'd only land in the kitchen if it did fall through, and then I could make my own tea, instead of having Helga do it. She is the serving wench, and I am the only one who sees her.

        Quick Tip: If library takes too long, tell them you're the Queen of Imp'eight'chance and you're unhappy. According to the newspaper it should work.

  2. This truly was an incredible book. Both my husband and I read it in a matter of days. And great review!

  3. Graceling is one of my favorite books. I agree with you PO Is a memorable character and one of my top three male leads (including PEETA and SAM)

    Great Review!

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