I like using re-reads as an excuse to buy audiobooks. When I found out that this particular version was a full cast audiobook – and unabridged! – I was in heaven. Hearing a distinct voice for each character made this audio experience just perfect, and the narrator, with his kind-uncle-storyteller voice, rounded it up very well. My rating may have gone up since I last read this, simply because the audio version deserves some extra credit.
Published: Full Cast Audio, 2009
Series: The Seven Kingdoms #1
My rating: 7,5/10
First sentence: In these dungeons the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind.
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.
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.
I remember first reading this when it came out in paperback and being drawn into the story very quickly. Katsa is a wonderfully independent heroine and she stays true to herself throughout the entire story – despite a scrumptious love interest, she never loses sight of who she is, and she keeps her convictions. This is something I don’t see a lot in YA fiction. Mostly, the appearance of a man makes the female lead change her world view and, in proper Twilight fashion, turns the man into the focal point of the girl’s life. Not so in Graceling.
This is clearly a character-driven book. Kristin Cashore does have a story to be told but the plot is simple and straight-forward and, in and of itself, not very exciting. But she also gives us a small cast of characters that are intriguing enough to stay interested and, at times, glued to the pages. Katsa and Po’s interaction was enough for me to keep reading. Their development is believable and heartbreaking. I said Katsa stayed true to herself but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t change. Po teaches her new things about herself, and falling in love is always a pivotal point in life. All of this, the author brought across in this novel, and it was as thrilling on a re-read as it was the first time around.
Maybe I have become more critical since I first read this, but the prose didn’t strike me as particularly good. A lot of times, we learn Katsa’s thoughts, then hear them again, repeated in speech. The structure is plain, the narrative straight-forward. It’s not great but it also isn’t terrible. The repetitions got on my nerves every once in a while but not enough to diminish my enjoyment of the story.
What really strikes me about this book is how daring it is. It breaks the clichés of YA fantasy romances while retaining all the elements that make it captivating. A strong, independent heroine, a love story that is subtle and overwhelming at the same time (in a good way), and an ending that’s not all happy, but all the more convincing.
On the audio version:
This was the first time I had an entire book read to me, with an actor for each character. It was a wonderful experience to get the unabridged story told to you. I thought that Katsa and Po’s voices were well-chosen, and I was especially pleased with Bitterblue. She sounds young enough to be believable but the actress brought a dignity to her voice that brought Bitterblue’s character to life. To create even more atmosphere, at the end and beginning of most chapters, there is a little background music – which is totally up my alley. It is a costly audiobook, sure, but it’s worth it. I might actually listen to this again many times.
I wanted to re-read this for a while and the recent publication of Bitterblue gave me the necessary kick in the butt. I will attack the third book set in the Graceling Realm very soon, because I had forgotton how intriguing Bitterblue is as a character and can’t wait to find out how she holds up in her own novel.
THE GOOD: An independent heroine, a beautiful love story, and strong characters all around.
THE BAD: Simple writing, not the most action-packed plot.
THE VERDICT: If you like YA romances set in a fantasy world, pick this up. I just loved to see a truly strong female protagonist who doesn’t lose her head when she falls in love. There should be more heroines like Katsa.
RATING: 7,5/10 Very good