Graceling by Kristin Cashore
I read this book in one night, starting in the afternoon and ending at 7:30 the next morning.
It’s set in a world of seven semi-warring kingdoms, where some people are inexplicably born with something called a Grace. This Grace is an exaggerated aptitude for something, such as cooking, or horse training, or hand-to-hand fighting. These people, referred to as Gracelings, are marked by their mismatched eyes. For example, the main character, Katra, has one blue eye and one green.
Her Grace just happens to be killing, meaning she is an extremely capable fighter who always gets the job done. She’s practically Super Girl, able to run faster, shoot farther, and last longer without food or sleep, than just about anyone she’s met. She has also been forced since childhood to play the strongarm for her uncle, one of the seven kings, but in recent years has started developing a disgust for her actions.
The premise was so fascinating, and I was very engaged by the struggles of the main character. I’m all for strong female characters, especially those with a special talent like Killing, Fighting, and basically all around bad-assery. So two thumbs up for Katra on the whole physical equality thing.
She fails miserably at the Bechdel Test, though. This is the test, (usually applied to movies/tv shows) that asks three questions.
1. Are there two women
2. Talking to each other
3. About something other than men
There are almost no other female characters in the entire book that even have speaking parts! I can name three! There’s Katra’s nursemaid, who regularly badgers her about getting married, settling down, and having babies. Bitterblue, a girl child she ends up bascially adopting, and a Graceling ship’s captain almost always talk about her love interest, Prince Po. The rest of her friends and main accomplices are men. She is apparently the only woman in the world capable of establishing her own independence.
I really, really wanted to like this book. I thought for the most part, Katra was a pretty cool leading lady, and heck, I even liked Prince Po. He’s one of those rare men that doesn’t care if his g/f can kick his ass, and sometimes even finds it pretty hot. But I feel that in another author’s hands, (not sure who’s), this story would have been much more satisfying. I was also left a little sour at the end, because I feel there was an especially blatant “maternal instinct” line that pissed me off. Read it for the interesting magic, and the main character, but don’t expect too much from it.
(No POC’s at all, either. Not even “Southerners” or “Islanders”. Prince Po is an “Islander” and is basically just really tan.)