I had a hard time deciding whether to give this book four or five stars. I definitely enjoyed Graceling more than every other book that I have rated a four so far this year. I wish I could give it four and half stars, but alas, Goodreads will not allow this.
The story of Graceling takes place in a world where some people are Graced with special abilities. The main character Katsa is a Graceling whose special ability is killing/surviving. At the beginning of the book, Katsa is a reluctant enforcer for her king. But Katsa also leads a Council that seeks to right wrongdoings throughout the seven kingdoms. Early in the book, Katsa meets Po, who is Graced with what appears to be a special ability at fighting. Katsa and Po set out to investigate the kidnapping of Po's grandfather.
I adore the idea of Graces. Even more so, I adore the idea that, even though a Graceling is identified by the different-colored eyes, the Grace (i.e., the specific special ability) itself may remain a mystery.
I initially hesitated to pick up this book because I read a few reviews claiming that Katsa is a raging bi-yatch. I strongly disagree with that assessment. Katsa is definitely demanding. But in my opinion, a lot of her snappishness toward the beginning of the book was the result of her trying to convince herself that she didn't need friends. It is well-known that Katsa's Grace is killing, so people generally avoid her. The book is in Katsa's perspective, and based on her thoughts, it appeared that she really does care and she really does seek love and friendship. I sympathized with her and did not at all find her to be bitchy. To the contrary, I found her to be respectably flawed despite being a serious butt-kicker.
I love Po, especially toward the beginning of the book. When Katsa is just getting to know him, there is ample description of his appearance (especially his eyes) and about how completely kick-ass he is. Unfortunately, as the book progressed, I tired of Katsa beating him during trainings. Po described himself as being humble, but I thought some more cockiness might have made him sexier. I would have liked to see him put Katsa in her place when she was in one of her controlling moods. But in the end, I did enjoy watching him take full advantage of his Grace--even though he never did kick Katsa's ass with it.
I can't say too much about the bad guy, because I don't want to give his/her identity away. But let me just say: Bad Guy's Grace is really awesome, and I wish I could have seen it in action a lot more.
There are two primary reasons that I do not give this book five stars: (1) An unreasonably large portion of the book was dedicated to the hard journey to and from a distant kingdom. Boooooring! In general, I prefer that authors do a lot more "show" than "tell," but this was over-doing it in my opinion. And (2) Katsa and Po deduce an extremely important piece of super-secret information based on a teeny tiny clue. I remain unconvinced that any two people would take the fortuitous leap of logic that they take. But of course, their conclusion is correct. More specifically, Katsa and Po figure out what King Leck's Grace is entirely too easily, based only on the fact that some informants appear believe that King Leck is simultaneously innocent and guilty of some wrongdoing.
The biggest problem that I have with this book does not affect my rating, because it did not affect my enjoyment of the book. However, as this is supposedly a young adult book, this bothers me quite a bit: The institution of marriage gets a seriously bad rap. We see three relationships related to marriage in Graceling: (1) Po's parents, the king and queen of Lienid, (2) Katsa and Po, and (3) Bad Guy and his/her spouse. (1) The Lienid king and queen appear to have a great, loving relationship with many children, and the Lienid king is a good and fair ruler. Despite this, his queen keeps an important secret from him in fear that the king with treat his son badly if he learns the truth. Everyone who learns the truth appears to agree with the queen's decision. So their marriage can't be all that great, if the queen is protecting her son from his own father. (2) Katsa refuses to marry because, in her opinion, even if her husband does not attempt to control her, any freedom that she would have as a married lady would be allowed only at the whim of her husband. Katsa's position on this matter is never disputed throughout the book, and her mind does not appear to change even after she and Po fall in love. The book appears to suggest that living together as lovers forever is preferred to marriage. I'm not saying that marriage should be a goal of everyone, but I disapprove of this book being pitched as young adult book, all the while sending the message that a life as unmarried lovers is preferable to marriage. (3) Of course, I cannot go into the issue of Bad Guy's marriage, but let's just say it is a bad
Despite my issues with the book, I really enjoyed it. And I will definitely read the sequel.