Monday, November 1, 2010

Lazy Book Club: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

**Here goes the usual warning: SPOILERS ABOUND! We're DISCUSSING the book which includes plot points and characters. Don't read THIS if you haven't read Graceling!**

So, we took two, er three? months with Graceling. Our original thought was to give some readers a little extra time, and because you all submitted such great comments - we wanted more time to devote to this book. Also? At the end of August, Leigh and I discussed Katsa and Po's relationship FOR DAYS (literally). We had our first literary disagreement so we had to talk about nothing else until we made the other understand our side. And understand we do, but agree? Nope. We've agreed to disagree. More on that later...

But here we are and I am happy to report that all of you love Graceling as much as we do! You all loved Katsa, but mostly loved Po, and we're in agreement with you there!

I'll start with Katsa. I think she is an amazing character. Her physical strength and abilities are awesome, but I also loved seeing her grow emotionally throughout the book.In relation to her physical ability, Nicole from Words for Teens said, “I like kick ass characters. Katsa is one of those kick ass characters.”

I totally agree, but I think that Katsa is amazing because she has this Grace, but she does not want to use it for harm. I loved when she started to realize this about herself and finally got away from Randa. It was so simple, but she needed so much emotional strength to do it. I always love Chicks Who Can Kick Our Asses even more when they have (or begin to have) the mental fortitude to back up their ass-kicking ability.

Ah, Katsa... I LOVED Katsa - really - even though you and I disagreed about her growth, Stacie. I was so thrilled to see a strong female main character who was downright scary in the way that she was superior in physical strength to anyone else. I also appreciated that she was balanced enough to be fragile mentally in some ways. What I wanted to see so badly was for her to grow more emotionally. Whereas you could argue that she grew because she was able to get out from under Randa's grasp, she wasn't starting from a zero on the emotional scale. She already had made steps to be subversive, to take on side projects and try to help people. She had the seed planted in the very beginning of the book and that's why I was unsatisfied with where she and Po ended up. It felt anemic to me.

Ah yes, this is where our disagreement begins. I concede that she wasn't starting from a zero, but I do think that her entire self-image had been shaped by her supposed Grace. Until Po, she believed she was a killer , and therefore believed she was intrinsically bad. I think Po helped her to see that she was actually a good person, which in turn gave her the strength to get away from Randa.

And that brings me to Po. Who doesn’t love Po? Is he not the greatest boyfriend ever? And he's hot and carries a sword. Check and check. Everyone agreed that Po is a great character (most of you said he was your favorite), and a lot of you brought up the fact that he wasn’t threatened by Katsa’s superior strength in the way that most men would be. Hoping4More mentioned her favorite quote to illustrate this point, “It humbles me. But it doesn't humiliate me.”

Picksee also had a lot to say about Po:
"Is he not just perfection with rings and golden hoops? Here is this prince, who has an amazing gift of sensing other people and how they feel and think about him so he should be arrogant and bratty, but he's not. He's just lovely and everyone loves him-as they should. And, he loves Katsa and recognizes that she's his better--which is so not something you see often...or, well ever."
While I was reading, I really didn't take note of the fact that Po wasn't threatened by Katsa's strength (physical), so I'm happy that Hoping4More and Picksee pointed it out because it is definitely one more thing that I love about Po.

I loved Po, too! He was hot! He was talented! He was completely, as you said, not threatened by the fact that a chick could kick his ass and then some! And his talent was so unique and also kinda sad. Who would want to know everything that everyone thought about them? I very highly doubt I'd still be married if that was the case. Not to mention this huge burden he's lived with his whole life - at what age do you face the reality that the people you love would use you, no matter how hard they may want not to, because they're human? Excuse me, I need to mentally console Po. *takes a moment*

Okay, I'm back. Now, can we please discuss how Katsa and Po are these amazing and flawed people who are in a SERIOUSLY DYSFUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIP? See, I'm afraid that everything I say is going to come across as "this sucks" when really I adored this book. I recommended this book to everyone. I want to snuggle Po and give Katsa a good hug, and then sit them down and explain why their relationship is doomed for failure if they don't admit that they have needs and that they should compromise. Po is so relieved to have found someone who loves him that he's all, "Whatever you need, babe, I'll just sit back and wait for you. No commitment needed. Really. In fact, you go off for months at a time and never even promise you'll ever come back. No worries. I'll be here." That, my friends, is not healthy. PO HAS NEEDS, DAMMIT!

I'm going to cheat and pull a comment from a friend of mine, who wishes to stay anonymous. She put what was bugging me into words:
I think what you're reacting to is that it feels like Katsa's emotional arc falls flat--that she doesn't grow emotionally to a point where she would do something out of her comfort zone because of an emotional response.

I'm assuming that this is a series and the author is planning the emotional arc to span the entire series, which is fine. But we still need the little victories, and sleeping together in a cave does not an emotional growth victory make.

Pearl-clutching aside, I like that she took a step away from the marriage thing here, especially in a traditionalist society that would expect that as a next step. But marriage isn't really an emotional issue here. The issue is COMMITMENT, and the fact that her self-focus and unwillingness to commit should have consequences for her, but those never materialize.

I actually think it might have been a stronger ending if she'd had to make a conscious choice and take the consequences of that.

*snorts* And here we go. In my opinion, Kristin Cashore ended it this way on purpose. Katsa didn't settle down and become a princess - she followed her dream to teach other girls how to fight! And Po needed time to himself. In my post-book imagination they return to each other after some separation and realize they can never, ever be apart again. So, THEN they marry and have little Po and Katsa babies. But before that, they each have to find their own way - especially Katsa. She had only recently freed herself from the idea of being a born killer, and she had finally found a use for her Grace that she believed in. She OWED it to herself to see that through. She owed it to Po too - if she didn't take this time, she would always wonder, and Po (amazing man that he is) knows this and willingly lets her go, knowing she'll come back to him. Because she does. In my world.

Of course she does, but the lack of a realistic give-and-take in their relationship is really, at the end of the day, what bugged me about it. I get that Katsa is dealing with some stuff, blah blah blah, but she loves him. I know it, you know it, she knows it. So why doesn't she ACT like it? *ponders throwing book* *hugs it close instead* The fact that I care THIS MUCH is just proof what a good book this is.

Picksee had this to say about how their relationship ended, and I agree: "The ending kind of broke my heart when she was going to leave-but then I totally got it. His Wildcat (love his nickname for her by the way) couldn't be caged-and he knew this was this was the way to have her. And, they have other things going on with their lives-not just each other. Such a good couple."

I also liked what Harmony from Harmony's Radiant Reads had to say about Katsa and Po's relationship in general, and I think you could apply this to the ending as well:
"I love that when they found out they were in love, they didn't start to ravage each other and throw their lives away and just not THINK. I like how they stepped out and thought about it for a while, giving each other space and time to make sure that it was something they truly wanted with their lives. Po never pressured Katsa to do anything and instead kept his distance until he knew she had made up her mind. I really admired that about their relationship."
Yes, and yes. Agreed.

Even people who didn't love the ending didn't feel quite so strongly as I did. Hoping4More said "The only thing that I wasn't thrilled about was the ending, because I'm a HEA type of girl, but it totally fit with the characters and the story so I'll embrace it as it is."

So, in the interest of moving forward, I'm agreeing to disagree about the "Po and Katsa as Best Couple EVAH!" point. *winks* What I think is interesting is that this book is not a romance. I didn't read it because it was going to have lots of hot heaving bosoms and kissing and whatnot. It's a mystery, and a coming-of-age story, and a high fantasy all rolled into one. What I think we can all agree on is that this mixture is what makes it so engaging. I think every commenter talked about how awesome they thought the idea of the Graces was. It's truly original.

Picksee said it well:
"I love the idea of a ""Grace"" and how it was regarded--to use for the king only and also to be feared-even if it's just something as mundane as cooking or strong swimmer-rather than revered. Someone asked what I was reading and was starting to explain the graces-and they said, so, like a superpower? I was like, nooo, well...yeah, kinda. But, I never thought of it that way. And superheroes are not feared-they're Superheroes! They get sponsorships (unless they're X-Men of course). So, I appreciated that she was able to give these characters special traits without it feeling like a rehash of other supernatural or comic books. And, that she realistically built in reactions to them-I have to think that this would really happen in the real world--we're not so good with those who are different-even if in a really good way."
So, at the end of the day, we all loved this book. It was fresh, original, and had a host of kick-ass characters.

Whew! Leigh and I made it through our first literary disagreement!

And, if you haven't read Fire by Kristin Cashore, be sure to add it to your list! Leigh actually liked it better than Graceling, so it comes highly recommended. And, keep your eye out for Bitterblue as well - I'm hoping we get a tiny bit of Katsa and Po in there. Just a little? Please?

Finally, there was so much in the LBC comments for Graceling, we really couldn't get to everything! We'd love to hear more of your thoughts in the comments. (And we're actually thinking of revising LBC because of this - more on that soon.) Thanks for reading Graceling with us!



  1. Great sum-up ladies. Made me want to read it again!

    I read Fire too, and I think I liked it about the same as Graceling. I was shocked that it was so different. I'm hoping by the title that the third book gives me more Po and Katsa *crosses fingers* A year feels so long to wait for Bitterblue, but at least there wasn't a crazy cliffhanger, I don't do well with those :)

  2. Loved that you had a literary disagreement---AND SURVIVED :) Those are the best!!! (This is not why I'm sometimes contrary, however, I'm sure it's why I'm not afraid of being contrary :))

    Loved the summary as well--and the disagreement made me look at it a little differently. I still fall on the side of Stacie (sorry!)--but it made me think about their relationship a little bit differently-but then I had these little silent arguments in my head, like, "Nuh uh!" :) So, thanks for making me look at things from a different perspective!

  3. So this comment is two years late, but I just finished Graceling this afternoon. I took some time, read your comments and considered my position and this is what I have come up with...

    I side with Stacie, as much as it pains me to say because I HATE agreeing with her. But I do and this is why:

    Katsa did not start out at an emotional zero, but she was pretty close. She had been alienated, used, shunned and feared for the majority of her life. She had never know a parents love, that she can remember, and she can easily count the number of people she cares about on 1 hand. No matter how strong you are that kind of neglect and abuse will make you feel like nothing, or like a dog, as she was fond of saying.

    Then you have Po. Po who was loved and esteemed and honored his whole princely life. Yes he had the burden of keeping the true nature of his Grace a secret, but he otherwise led a very privileged and emotionally stable life.

    *Fast forward to them being in love*

    The fact that Katsa could even deal with the fact that she loved Po was, I thought, a huge step. Especially considering his Grace. I know that if my girlfriend could sense everything I felt about her when we were together I would be having a puppy custody battle right now (#potentiallesbianproblems). But she managed to accept it and take that step forward with Po. I, too, am glad that she didn't have them get married and do the whole traditional girl nonsense. I think it's empowering that she allowed Katsa to take a lover, not a lover because she wanted to get laid, but someone whom she loved and who was very much her equal. I loved it.

    I also don't blame Katsa for not making a more formal commitment to Po after they returned to the cabin. He was changed. He was bitter. He wasn't her Po, the Po she remembered. Now, I don't think that you should abandon your man when he's down on his luck, but there was also no way of knowing if he would get better aka back to being perfect. He was slightly better by the end, which is awesome. And while they didn't make the traditional formal commitment to each other, Katsa said that she wasn't going to leave him until he wanted her to or until he was ready to leave himself. That sounds pretty committed to me...

    Also, in the beginning of Bitterblue the letters from Po and Katsa saying that they hadn't seen each other in months and were reuniting at Bitterblue city leaves me hopeful that after eight years they are still sticking it out together, even if their business of raising hell has them separated for months at a time. ( if this turns out to not be true, don't tell me! I will have come to that grim conclusion by this time tomorrow since I am devouring these books.)

    But, anyway, that is why I agree with Stacie. I am going to go hunt down some people that have read this book now so I can have a proper nerd vomit session.

    Ps- You ladies are enjoyably ridiculous. Keep up the good work.


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