Friday, August 13, 2010

Three Viewpoint Friday: GRACELING.

Okay, so we normally do a Three Viewpoint Thursday every few weeks, where Vilate, Aly, and I get together and chat about a book, but I messed up and am posting this late. So this week, we have a Three Viewpoint Friday chat about Graceling by Kristin Cashore. This is a young adult fantasy novel, and the first in Cashore's Seven Kingdoms Trilogy. We all enjoyed this tremendously!

Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight — she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme, and in her case horrifying, skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug. When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace — or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away... a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

Renee: Today we're talking about GRACELING by Kristin Cashore, the first in her Seven Kingdoms Trilogy. To begin, what are your overall impressions?

Vilate: I thought it was a nice sort of throwback fantasy. The kind I might've picked up when I was younger and searching in the adult section. It has a little of the feel of an epic fantasy story without being long-winded and full of flowery descriptions. I liked that it kept the fantasy while having a tight plot and interesting characters.

Aly: I have been reading so much urban fantasy that I forgot that I love High Fantasy. I really loved this book. I want to re-read it because I felt I read it too fast. I do have to say that I felt that it really was almost an adult book with a YA cross-over though. Just me....but still loved the book, the characters, the story.

Renee: Like Aly, I've been reading so much paranormal/urban fantasy lately, that it was nice to read a straight fantasy novel, and this one was so great! I loved the plot twists and characters. And yes, there were more adult themes in this than I anticipated, but I liked it.

Renee: What did you think about Katsa? She's a very different YA heroine -- very independent. Did you like the welcome change, or find her hard to relate to?

Vilate: I actually didn't find her to be all that different than other YA heroines. The trend is definitely towards strong and independent young women, so it wasn’t jarring for me. I found her personality to be a very good example of what might happen to a person in her situation. Even though we're more used to heroines who are feisty and independent, it felt like her situation couldn't have produced anything else, so it felt very natural and easy.

Aly: I think that she is a great heroine. Strong, but flawed in some ways. I hate when they are so perfect that there are no imperfections. I also liked that in many ways Po was also a strong character and a good match/complement to her. So I found her easy to connect with for the most part.

Renee: I think Katsa is a refreshing heroine, especially near the middle of the book when she begins to show some softness, while still being strong. At the beginning, she was a little too tough and impulsive at times.

Renee: And YES, I loved Po as a complement to her fly-off-the-handle style, with him being more calculating and rational. He was easily my favorite character.

Vilate: As much as I liked Po, I found it a little... typical of YA books these days, the connection between Po and Katsa. I didn't really feel like Katsa's development was necessarily helped by Po. I actually felt like she had a better, more natural connection to Bitterblue. I loved the time the two girls spent together and really felt like Katsa gained a lot from the interaction.

Aly: But I still really loved Po. I liked that Katsa who never saw herself as being a mother someday developing this bond with this child (Bitterblue) but I did feel that Po was a good balance. I hate when the girl is so much less than the boy or heck, even the other way around. If a "mortal" falls for an immortal paranormal with amazing abilities, there will always be an imbalance. In many ways, Katsa's gifts make her the superior to most people but Po is a good balance. He is strong, a worthy fighting opponent and then personally more social which balances out Katsa's roughness.

Renee: Definitely. Maybe it's just because Po is now one of my favorite YA male characters, but I liked that he was comfortable with a strong female. There was a definite feeling of equality, without him always being the hero or having to be superhero. I especially loved how Po brought out the gentleness in Katsa, and then at the end of the novel, it came full circle and she was able to help him on his own journey with his Grace. I liked how that worked out.

Vilate: I do like Po, don't get me wrong. :) I just didn't find anything really unique about the pairing. It's so commonplace in the books I've been reading I guess. Po is a great character, though. Of course, I especially liked Katsa's cousin. He was a wonderful addition to the cast. Blue hair! His was the character I found most exciting and unique. I want to know him in real life! lol.

Renee: We mentioned Bitterblue earlier, and now Raffin (Katsa's cousin). I felt that all of the side characters were very well developed in this book. In fact, the only character I felt wasn't developed enough was Katsa's uncle, King Randa. He seemed very one-dimensionally "mean." What do you think?

Aly: I think Randa was meant to be one dimensional in some ways but I felt he was in some ways more developed than Bitterblue's father. He had this amazingly powerful ability and we saw some of the impact of it but I was still a little confused but him.

Renee: That struck me too... Bitterblue's father kind of came in as a plot device, and wasn't fully explored (as much as I would like).

Vilate: Randa was very one-dimensional to me, but all of the kings were like that. I think it happened that way because that's how Katsa saw him. He used her so badly that it would've been unnatural for her to see him as anything but cruel. Bitterblue's father... I would've liked a little more foreshadowing for him. He's barely mentioned in the first half of the book and I particularly enjoy when the major plot catastrophe is pulled into the story as soon as possible. It did fall a little flat for me in this case.

Renee: That leads to my next point. The book is almost 500 pages long... How did you feel the pacing went? Did it slow down for you at any points?

Aly: I started with the audio book because I thought that would be quicker. I could do a cleaning project and listen. But I swear the narrator reads slower than I do and then there were 3 different speakers and it drove me crazy. So maybe when I switched to the book and actually started reading it and could go at my pace without annoying voices that if there were slow parts I didn't notice it.

Vilate: lol, Aly! I hate it when an audio book is "acted" out. I didn't find any of the pacing slow, per se, but I did have a difficult time getting into the story at first. Granted, I was very distracted, but the fact that I kept coming up with excuses not to read probably tells more than me being distracted. Once I got into it, though, it was an easy and quick read.

Renee: This might sound kind of fangirl-ish, but whenever there were extended periods where Po wasn't there, I got a little distracted, haha. But seriously, I was so absorbed with Katsa & Po's journey (with the help of Raffin, Giddon, etc.) that when they finally encountered the "villain" I was kind of disappointed. I forgot all the friends were working together for a reason, if that makes any sense... I kind of liked just watching/reading them "be." And the main plot, kind of like Vi said, happened too quickly at the end for me.

Aly: I think my hesitation in starting it, Vi, was that so many people had said how wonderful it was and that I must read it. I sometimes get a little stubborn about reading it. Also I hate to be disappointed. However once I started and left the audio, and kept going it reminded me that high fantasy was my first love and something I had read a lot more than urban fantasy/paranormal books. I mean every book can be torn apart for parts that might have been overly done or not done enough but really this was great and I am eager to read FIRE and also BITTERBLUE when it comes out.

Vilate: Absolutely. I'll have to pick up FIRE as soon as I can, and I'm sure that I'll love it. It was really nice to read the fantasy, since I love the straight fantasy world. (That's also the reason I liked SHADOW, by Jenny Moss so much).

Renee: Yes, I am eager to read FIRE, and especially when BITTERBLUE comes out, since it has several of the characters from GRACELING in it. And ultimately, I really loved this too. It lived up to the hype for me.

Vilate: Despite the hype GRACELING already has, I'll add to it - this is a GREAT book and anyone who likes fantasy should pick this up. I already have someone in mind to pass it off to. :)

Aly: Oh, I did want to ask about Katsa's resistance to marrying Po even after everything. Some people are bothered by their obvious physical relationship at the end but her refusal to marry him?

Vilate: That does sort of bother me, but only because I don't understand the commitment without marriage thing. I don't consider myself much of a traditionalist in a lot of ways, but it just seems silly that Katsa would be fine with committing but not with marrying. I think it gets to the logical part of me in that it doesn't really seem logical. But it's not the physical aspect.

Renee: Okay, this REALLY bothered me in the beginning, because I didn't understand her resistance to the institution of marriage, even if it's with someone who loves her and is okay with giving her endless freedom. Somehow near the end I became okay with it, and I was okay with it as an unconventional happy ending. What actually bothered me was after seeing Katsa interact so well with Bitterblue was her total resistance to the idea of children... After seeing her so well with a child, I expected more of a change of heart.

Aly: Well if it was present day then people are more free with this but I also think of things being a little more *traditional* in the time period this feels it belongs in. I was okay with the ending but I still am not sure that I see this as YA and it doesn't have anything to do with the physical relationship. It has more to do with the fact that Po and Katsa really seemed more like adults and not teens.

Vilate: Good point. As with several books I've read lately, I'd go with this as a crossover or "new adult" book. Both characters were on the older side and if I didn't know that publishers were making money in the YA market, I'd wonder why this didn't end up in the adult section.

Renee: True, they did feel very grown up. Hopefully we'll get to see more of these characters in BITTERBLUE.

Renee: I know Vi, you said you'd recommend this. Would you recommend this Aly and to what age group?

Aly: I would definitely recommend it. I tend not to be a big book banner. I was reading adult lit as a teen. I might not recommend it to teens whose parents I know have issues with sex in YA but I would definitely recommend it to both teens and adults. It is a beautiful book in many ways and I really enjoyed it.

Renee: Agreed. Thanks for another lovely chat!

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