Feminist Fiction Book of the Month – Graceling

Feminist Fiction Book Graceling

The month’s feminist fiction book of the month is Graceling by Kristin Cashore – a story about a girl named Katsa who was graced with the killing power at birth. But that gift made her the King’s bully who he used to keep his people in line. When Katsa decided she’d had enough as the King’s pawn, she discovers the truth about her grace and learns of a terrible secret that could destroy her entire world.

In this realm, some people are born with a special power – a grace – which heightens an ability. It can be any talent – such as dancing, swimming, singing, or even mind reading. Katsa was born with the ability to be a fighter. She was faster, stronger, and more skilled than all of the King’s men combined.

I chose Graceling this month because it comes highly rated on Goodreads – my go-to for book recommendations – but also because Cashore wrote Katsa to be one of the strongest characters I have ever read and had her take a position that is uncommon in these types of fantasy novels.

These types of books, as amazing as they are, still have a fairytale aspect to them. We all expect the main character to fall in love and get married to the person of their dreams. Katsa found the person of her dreams, but she took a strong stance never to get married.

It’s something she neither needed nor wanted. She never dreamt of having children or being forced to entertain her husband’s guests. And when she told others of what she wanted, they responded with what thousands of girls have heard, “You’re not so different from other women. You’ll want babies. I’m certain of it.”

Katsa knew what she wanted and what she absolutely did not want and stayed true to herself throughout the entire book. It even caused me to realize that I sometimes fall under that dangerous social standard of believing a woman should get married and have children. There were moments throughout the book that broke my heart and had me wishing she would stop being so stubborn and just marry the man she loves.

But this is why a book like this is so necessary. It causes us to catch ourselves when we disagree with a character’s actions. I strongly believe that a woman has every right to not want to be a mother or wife but I found myself wishing that Katsa would give up on her morals and do what made her man happy.

And I hated myself for even thinking that. It wasn’t because I believed that Katsa should get married because it was her duty – I just wanted to make the main male character happy.

I knew I had to change my way of thinking, and at the end of the book, I respected Katsa more for not bending to the social expectations of a woman.

Katsa works as the King’s bully and uses her grace to keep people in line. But when the King pushes her too far, she leaves the only place she’s called home. She meets Po, a prince from another kingdom who was also graced with the killing power, and together, they save their realm from an evil sadistic tyrant.  

I enjoyed the story overall, and it is clear that Cashore is an immensely gifted writer. There were what I thought to be strange writing choices throughout the novel but ended up being hints of a plot twist that had me asking myself, “why didn’t I see that coming?”

My critique for this novel is the pacing. The beginning was a little slow but as the novel picked up, I was entranced. My real issues come during the resolution. Cashore spent about 300 pages leading up to the resolution which only about 50 pages long. It was too simple a resolution for what should have been a very complicated problem. And there were scenes that she wrapped up in only a couple pages but could have been entire novels.

I would have liked her to have ended the novel halfway in, extended some of the scenes, and wrote a second or third book. It was as if she could impatient at the very end and just wanted the book to end.

And Cashore decided to throw a monkey wrench in the last few pages of the book that had me reeling. She did not give herself enough time to resolve it fully and slapped together an ending that left me unsatisfied and more than a little frustrated. And not in a good way.

Cashore’s writing was also a bit confusing at times. Because she chose the novel to be set almost in the medieval ages, the dialogue is a little different than what I’m used to. Although it wasn’t a big issue by any means, it was just important to catch minute things such as the difference between “born” and “borne”.

However, I highly recommend this book for those of you who do not want to commit to a long series and want a strong, powerful female character you can look up to. Katsa truly is inspiring – not only as a trailblazer but as a woman having to make difficult choices because of the society she was born into.