Graceling



I made a strange discovery when I was generating the Amazon links for this book. Throughout the novel, I kept saying that everything I was reading was definitely YA, yet my Gollancz ARC claimed that Kristin Cashore's Graceling would be perfect for fans of Patrick Rothfuss. Plodding on, I kept looking for a reason why they would make that claim. Interestingly enough, once I was done with the book I realized that it was marketed as a YA title in North America. Which, I believe, makes a lot of sense. I'm aware that there are a lot of differences between the British and the North American markets, yet it feels a bit weird that Gollancz is marketing Graceling as a work akin to those of authors such as Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch. Because it lacks the depth, the realism, and the grittiness to make it so.

Katsa was born with an exceptional skill which makes her feared throughout the land -- the Grace of killing. Well nigh invincible, at a young age she becomes the king's enforcer. But Katsa is also a secret agent of the Council, a shadowy group of men and women who are the forces of good in the land. During a mission to rescue a kidnapped foreign monarch, Katsa stumbles upon a mysterious chain of events which seem to make no sense. Investigating further, she will uncover intrigues that will set her against her own king and send her on a quest to unearth the mystery of a one-eyed figure.

Stylistically, Kristin Cashore's tale bears resemblance to Joe Abercrombie's The First Law. Character-driven plot with minimalist worldbuilding pretty much describe Graceling in a nutshell. Unlike Abercrombie, however, Cashore's debut is indubitably YA in style and tone.

The concept of Graces appeared interesting at the beginning, and the author makes a good job of describing the whole process. Alas, the whole thing loses some of its luster when we discover that one can be born with the Grace of sewing, jumping high, or similar talents. As I mentioned, the worldbuilding doesn't intrude on the story and more or less remains in the background. Which is too bad, because at times Cashore's prose can be evocative, and it would have been interesting to discover more about the world she created, as well as the various societies populating it.

Endemic to YA books, the politicking makes little sense. Too simplistic to be realistic, it lacks depth and sometimes you just shake your head in wonder. Then again, when I was a young teenager, politics in a fantasy novel were probably the last thing I paid attention to.

Typical to YA novels, the characterization are a bit clichéd. Everything is too black and white, with no room for shades of gray. What Kristin Cashore does well is create endearing characters, even though they are quite predictible. Still, she came up with an engaging bunch that makes for easy reading. Katsa, the main protagonist, is a cross between Drizzt Do'Urden, the Terminator, and Nynaeve al'Meara. There's a definite sense of "girl power" in this one, and the story is told in a very contemporary voice. Hence, though it seems to be aimed at a female teenage readership, it is a world away from similar works from the 80s by Mercedes Lackey, Andre Norton, or Marion Zimmer Bradley. This being a novel written by a female author for a young adult audience, you know that there will be a love story. Enter the extraordinary and secretive and handsome Prince Po, and there you have it. Though you see it coming from a mile away, this cheesy love story nearly killed the book for me.

À la Salvatore, Cashore can write some thrilling battle scenes, and there are plenty of those in Graceling. Though evocative, the narrative can be juvenile at times, and the same can be said of the dialogues. Still, the author keeps the tale moving at a brisk pace, and other than the love story between Katsa and Po, Graceling is a quick read, especially if you prefer action over depth.

In the end, Kristin Cashore's Graceling is a fast-paced and accessible read. The book should appeal to fans of writers such as Maggie Furey, Trudi Canavan, and Elaine Cunningham.

The final verdict: 6.75/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

28 commentaires:

The Witchfinder said...

"Katsa, the main protagonist, is a cross between Drizzt Do'Urden, the Terminator, and Nynaeve al'Meara."

Sounds like someone whose face I'd spend the entire length of the book imagining as I wrung her neck. Cheers for the words of warning! =P

Stephanie said...

Is it all young adult novels that have romantic elements, or just the ones written by women? The presence of a romantic story arc has never been specific to a particular author gender, and frankly it seems dismissive to attribute it to one, even in passing.

Adam Whitehead said...

I suspect the rather sweeping and dubious statements made regarding 'YA' books are about to come under some very heavy fire, Pat ;-)

Billy said...

YA has its own flavor, something that some readers enjoy and others hate.

I have to say that Pat summarized a lot of what doesn't work for me with YA novel. I would have been a little harsher, to tell the truth.

If it looks like a dog, if it smells like a dog, if it barks like a dog, it is a dog.

Show me a YA novel with politics that feel real and deep. I have yet to encounter one. How many YA novels don't have a stupid corny love story? Not many, at least in my experience. How many YA novels showcase three-dimensional characters that don't hold black and white views in regards to good and evil, etc? Very few. Why? Because their target audience doesn't yet grab all that stuff and it doesn't really appeal to them.

Time was, I thought Weis and Hickman, Salvatore, Dennings and their ilk were the shit. I was young and what they wrote spoke to me. At 36 now I doubt that I could finish any one of those books if I was to try to reread them.

Growing up is about experiencing stuff, and it's only natural that different kinds of books will appeal to a younger crowd. Nothing wrong with that.

Pat is simply honest enough to give people the straight dope. Even if it will displease some. Trying to sugarcoat it to make authors and editors happy would mean that would lie to us the readers.

The guy has done good by me for over two years now and I kind of know what I'm going to like or not based on his review. And I know that this one isn't for me...

I find it annoying that some people pounce on him every time he says something about YA books or stuff like that. Reviewing books is a very subjective thing and the guy gives his honest opinion, whether people like it or not. Doing otherwise would be a disservice to those of us who have come to trust his opinion in SFF books.

The guy doesn't like YA stuff. I guess he's made it quite clear in the last few months. Why editors are still trying to push YA STUFF his way is beyond me...

Patrick said...

Wert: I've weathered a few storms so far. . .;-)

Shirow66 said...

You might want to clarify what the hell YA means in the review, because I have no idea and I've been reading fantasy for like 20 years....

Nevermind.. I just realized what it meant. I must say I haven't come across the acronym often, although I could blame it on not being a native English speaker. I thought you were referring to some kind of sub-genre within fantasy and I was getting pissed off that I didn't know it because I've been reading only fantasy for the last 20 years.

Dream Girlzzz said...

I've been a fan of this blog because Pat usually tells it like it is, at least as he sees it. And even though we don't always agree on everything, I would say that 9 times out of ten he's right on the money as far as I'm concerned.

A few people seem more concerned about semantics and political correctness than an honest opinion.

If a book is YA, then the reviewer has a responsibility to inform readers that it is so. Because those who can't stand YA stuff will probably quite pissed if they spend their hard-earned money thinking they are getting something else. I'm not averse to YA books as much as many readers who seem to hang out here, but it's nice to know what I'm getting into.

A cross between Drizzt, the terminator and Nynaeve!?! Fuck me man, but I'm not touching this one even if it has the best action scenes of the year!

Balerion said...

You know, I can't recall anything in In the Name of the Wind that would make it really inappropriate for modern YA-reading teens, so I can see why the marketing-drones would put this forward as something that would suit fans of Rothfuss.

Benjamin said...

billy, Dream Girlzzz, I agree that an honest opinion is best, and yes, book opinions are completely subjective. And that's the precisely the problem here.

It's one thing to say a book has poor characterization. It's quite another to say it has poor characterization because it's Young Adult. That's exactly like a literary critic deriding SFF as escapist crap. It implies something negative in the genre itself instead of the book. True subjectivity would judge each book on its own merits regardless of genre.

Do I read YA? Yes, I do. I also read science fiction, fantasy, mystery, historical fiction, and literature. I can do that because I don't believe any one genre is inherently superior to any other.

Adam Whitehead said...

"You know, I can't recall anything in In the Name of the Wind that would make it really inappropriate for modern YA-reading teens, so I can see why the marketing-drones would put this forward as something that would suit fans of Rothfuss."

That's because THE NAME OF THE WIND is by most, if not all, criteria a YA novel. So is THE EYE OF THE WORLD for that matter (it was re-released and marketed as such a few years back). Conversely, I would strongly argue that NATION and THE INFERIOR, both marketed as YA, are not YA books at all due to their explicit depictions of violence and, in the latter case, cannibalism. Pullman, who is a far more sophisticated author than most 'adult fantasy' writers around (certainly far moreso than Rothfuss), has given us one of the defining fantasy works of the last ten years under the YA label (despite the turgid ending to the trilogy). Mieville's UN LUN DUN, probably the best fantasy novel of 2007, is probably the best recent success story, since it worked fine on one level for younger readers and on an altogether different level (but familiar, to his established adult fanbase) for adult readers.

And it is notably ironic that Pat has namechecked Weis & Hickman and Feist, among others, as formative influences on his appreciation of SF&F as Weis & Hickman are very definitely YA and Feist's writing has rarely risen above that level (aside from the SERPENTWAR and EMPIRE books). And of course then there's the writers like Goodkind who may throw tons of sex and violence in their books, but their writing and obsession with rape and sex is actually exceptionally juvenile.

The issue is nowhere near as clear-cut as is often assumed.

Jebus said...

I always say "who the fuck cares?" - if you like a book, cool, if not, then cool as well. Does anyone honestly give a flying fuck what genre or age bracket it is in or targeted at? I like Pat's reviews 'cause they're honest and from his perspective as an "everyman" type reader. His reviews have helped me fin some books that I probably wouldn not have read before and steered me clear of others I may have been interested in - kind of what a reviewer's "job" is, right?

Anyway, harden the fuck up some of you wankers out there and stop being such pussies.

Dream Girlzzz said...

@ Adam: No, it's nowhere near as clear-cut as some people would like to think, but I believe it's nowhere near as "vague" as some people are trying to make it.

I'm always annoyed when I feel people are splitting hairs on issues like this. Kind of reminds me of the whole fantasy chick lit pissing contest. A dozen people take umbrage, while the rest of fandom couldn't care less...

It's also weird that people just love Pat when he reviews something like Bakker's The Judging Eye or books like that. But if he has a problem with books like The Last Wish and this one by Cashore, then he's a prick. I know I don't have what it takes to review books coherently, but sometimes I feel like the guy is caught in a viscious circle and he can't win.

I know he said it many times and I agree with Pat, the relationship between a reviewer and the readers is based on trust. After following the reviewer for a while, you get the feeling as to whether or not he or she has similar tastes in book and if you usually like what he or she likes. Pat has earned my trust, and so has Robert at Fantasy Book Critic, and so have a few others. I normally hate anything that Dylanfanatic likes. No slight to the guy, but we don't enjoy the same kind of stuff, is all.

For my money, Pat seems to dislike YA books for the same reasons I do. And it seems that others see things the same way. By the same token, a lot of people disagree and enjoy YA stuff. To each his own.

Why is it all right for adults to scoff at YA-targeted movies or TV shows, but you can't do the same with books. If you like Hannah Montana, then good for you! But would you have the balls to admit that at a party, on a date, etc? Various products have different target audiences, so why must this be a problem??? It doesn't mean that disparate demographics can't enjoy products that are not marketed for them. You're an adult and you love YA lit, kudos to you. Why is it a problem if a 30-something guy doesn't like that?

This whole argument makes me feel kind of odd. Reminds me of the time I tried to get a younger cousin to watch classic Seinfeld episodes with me. He couldn't finish the Soup Nazi, saying it was boring. WTF??? But my fiance then reminded me of our age difference, and I realized that seinfeld might not be the kind of thing a 16-year-old might dig.

The analogy is a bit lame, but it's just about the same here...

Jebus said...

I really do find it funny when people get pissed off at shit like this. In the end Pat is loving it 'cause it's more traffic to his site so more exposure. Opinions in comments in internet forums or blogs are about as relevant to ANYTHING as Yoko Ono is to Death Metal, including my own opinions.

I find Larry from OF Blog of the Fallen a bit on the nose with his haughty attitude to reviewing, but then to each their own. He certainly is not a fan of Pat (click my name to link to his review of Pat's review)

Anonymous said...

I've read fantasy and scifi books for years, but I've never had time to become a member of message boards or stuff like that. Discovering this blog has been like discovering a gold mine for me. Don't know if this sort of nitpicking characterizes message boards in general, but I find it weird to say the least.

Through Pat's review I've been exposed to books by Hal Duncan, Steven Erikson, R. Scott Bakker, Naomi Novik, Scott Lynch, Ian McDonald, Joe Abercrombie, Brian Ruckley, Ekaterina Sedia, Patrick Rothfuss, and many many more. As others have said, the guy has steered me in the right direction more often than not.

With respect to those who don't agree, I pretty much have the same definition of YA as Pat does. And yes I've read Pullman and the others and they didn't do it for me. Why should that make me a "bad" person for not liking YA novels?

It feels as though you detractors are grasping at straws here. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but why bother? YA books have a specific audience, just like romance books have their own. The fact that people outside those sets of parameters can enjoy such books is neither here nor there. To try to make Pat the bad guy for this is kind of a stretch...

Ray from San Diego

polishgenius said...

No-one's criticising Pat for not liking YA literature.

The criticism comes from his insistence on attributing as definitive negative values to the genre attributes that not only are essentially a matter of preference (fair enough if someone doesn't like simple morality or politics, but complexity in those fields is not essential to a good book - it's a preference, not an intrinsic value) but can be seen in books that are without a doubt not YA (Lord of the Rings, anyone) and yet aren't present in books that are called YA (the aforementioned Pullman, and Nation- in fact in all of Pratchett's work there's probably more focus on character depth and moral complexity in his kid's books than his adult, at least the more recent childrens ones).

There is of course a limit to the crossover, past which the books are most definitely YA (no-one's going to argue otherwise for Un-Lun-Dun or Harry Potter). And there are of course traits that are more prevalent in YA books than grown up ones, among which the ones Pat gives are present, and fair enough if people don't like them.
I don't think anyone really cares that Pat doesn't like YA, it's the manner he dismisses it in, and the way he uses the rather vague term 'YA tone' as a criticism, that has people's hackles up.

Anonymous said...

Just check the site's stats and Pat's Fantasy Hotlist received 1753visitors yesterday, the day the review went up. Out of that number, only 3-4 people have been nitpicking about the YA thing. Yeah, Dylanfanatic climbed on his soapbox and whined a bit. But when all is said and done, no one really cares.

I got Graceling at the library after reading good reviews by Werthead and Chris the Book Swede (I think). I couldn't even reach the halfway point of the book. I agree 100% with everything Pat pointed out and I feel he should have been a bit harsher.

Annabelle

Maria said...

"...yet it feels a bit weird that Gollancz is marketing Graceling as a work akin to those of authors such as Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch. Because it lacks the depth, the realism, and the grittiness to make it so."

Which is probably why I'd like it. I happen to like YA so your comments about why it doesn't work for you...make me think it would work for me!!!

:>)

RobB said...

Is it YA or is it like Abercrombie, because both comparisons are made. One one hand, you say

It feels a bit weird that Gollancz is marketing Graceling as a work akin to those of authors such as Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch.

but then counter that with:

Stylistically, Kristin Cashore's tale bears resemblance to Joe Abercrombie's The First Law. Character-driven plot with minimalist worldbuilding pretty much describe Graceling in a nutshell.

Here's some of the YA-hate:

Endemic to YA books, the politicking makes little sense. Too simplistic to be realistic, it lacks depth and sometimes you just shake your head in wonder.

Cory Doctorow's Little Brother is indubitably YA but has some great political postulations and great characterization.

Peter David's Tigerheart and Neil Gaiman's Coraline & Graveyard Book also indubitably YA but feature great characterization that aren't really cliche.

I guess this review confuses me more than anything Pat.

Adam Whitehead said...

Approaching this from a different angle, Pat's problem is that he doesn't like YA SF&F because a lot of YA has flat characters and bad worldbuilding (which politics is an important part of).

However, exactly the same is true of adult SF&F. A lot of adult SF&F has flat characters and bad worldbuilding as well. I am not really closer to understanding the anti-YA argument here.

gav (nextread) said...

Sorry Pat, but I'm just not feeling this review.

I'm really none the wiser about what this author and book brings to the reader.

But it seems that argument is that it's more fluff than anything else and this is the failure of lots of YA-aimed works?

Is that it?

Joe Abercrombie said...

I am the chicken of the fantasy world.

Everything tastes a bit like chicken...

Beth said...

For Christ's sake, I think the review is clear enough. What ever could be confusing here???

Sometimes I feel that some people are dense on purpose...

And Mr. Abercrombie, you're better than just the chicken of fantasy. Maybe a good steak... Yeah, that will do!!!

Anonymous said...

I've worked in a bookstore for nearly 4 years, and was in charge of the Young Adult section for two. No offense, but I fear that Pat's views of YA literature is on the money. The Hannah Montana analogy is pretty much spot on.

And please, pointing out authors like Pratchett, Gaiman and Doctorow is simply a case of enumerating the exceptions, not the norm.

YA books CAN be good, sure. But they rarely appeal to "older" folks because they are aimed at a younger audience. They are still immensely popular; Meyer, Paolini and Rowling are evidence of that in the SFF genres. But that doesn't take anything away from the fact that most SFF YA books are fluff suffering from many of the shortcomings Patrick pointed out.

So to the Dylanfanatics and Wheelers of this world, why all the hate? I've read Graceling and I must say that I find myself agreeing with most of what Patrick wrote.

For the most part, YA books are bubble gum for the mind. Other than a few select writers, the rest is only good to kill time on a slow night when we don't have customers...

Nancy

Adam Whitehead said...

"But that doesn't take anything away from the fact that most SFF YA books are fluff suffering from many of the shortcomings Patrick pointed out."

And so are most adult SFF books.

Seriously, the 'fact' that 'most' YA SF books are crap, therefore NO YA SF books at all should be read at all by anyone, ever, does not make a single atom of sense since most adult SF books are crap as well. It is finding the decent books amongst the sea of dross that is what blogs and reviewers are for.

To me this is just another extension of the ludicrous hierarchy of contempt in literature, where non-genre writers pour scorn on genre writers, novel writers pour scorn on TV writers, adult writers pour scorn on YA writers and original fiction writers pour scorn on tie-in writers.

Jebus said...

Adam, sense is not made of atoms, silly.

Anonymous said...

The fact that some of you are comparing YA literature to Hannah Montana just says to me that you haven't read a majority of the fantastic YA fiction out there.

I've actually encountered the opposite: YA pushes boundaries, has more complex characters and plots than most adult SFF. It's just like any other genre. There's fluff, there's decent and there's fantastic. To blanket an entire genre under negative characteristics is elitist and just plain incorrect.

And every single adult SFF novel I've read, BY MEN, has included a silly romantic subplot.

Richard said...

Well this is a surprise. As many of you here, I have read fantasy for nearly most of my life (30+) and find most comments here a bit immature. I tried to start a blog once, but failed miserably, I just suck at writing reviews. Pat writes reviews. And, in case you haven't noticed, reviews are not objective. They are never supposed to be! That's why there are so many blogs out there doing reviews. One is supposed to go around, find some reviewers you can relate to and then follow their work.

People come to comment here that Pat "always says", "always do" this or that about YA or Goodkind or some others. That's his job for crying out loud! He has to be consistent. And he is good at that. You don't like it? he has links to most fantasy bloggers on his site, go and find one you can relate to. I myself, cannot relate to some reviewers, like Larry, blog of the fallen. But I do not visit his site to criticize every single review I do not agree with.

Do I like YA fantasy. I think so. Magician is one of my favorite books ever, and that is YA. I enjoyed Harry Potter and even loved the first Goodkind book - which by the way is a very YA book, regardless of the rape and sex, heck, that - As Adam pointed out before me - only reinforces the black and white view and lack of real depth (and of course am not talking about "philosophy" here) of the series. And with that said, I still agree with Pats comments regarding YA fantasy.

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