What Did We Think?
Reception of Graceling was decidedly mixed. On one hand it was seen as being well paced, a good read and hard to put down. Whilst on the other, it was thought to be badly plotted, with 2 dimensional characters and stilted dialogue.
Praise for the concept was near-universal. The idea of the Graces was well received: mutations which imbue the bearer with an uncanny skill such as fishing, dancing, or killing, but which also mark their carrier with eyes of different colours, its an original and likable idea. The intrigue surrounding the protagonist Katsa’s Grace however was not so all generally loved being perceived by some as a lazy plot twist which was often inconsistently used.
Many, even those who thought the novel well plotted, agreed it was a story with two distinct parts. For many who disliked Graceling, the first half, with its court intrigue, was more engaging than the second and hence the book’s enjoyability decreased. Others, however, found the second half to be much more exciting and the villain of the piece to be chilling if not completely terrifying. Most readers agreed that the book seems to suffer from the by now oft seen “first book syndrome” and Cashore seems to have crammed all of her ideas into this one, quite slim (c.370 page), novel. As a result some aspects are under developed, we would all have liked to learn more about The Council for example, as they seem to have served no purpose in the plot of Graceling other than to enable Katsa to go on the mission which sets events in motion, and to pop up and save her bacon in the penultimate act.
Whether this was a girl’s book was a hot debate, not helped by the fact that all of the male reader seemed to be nonchalant about the novel at best, and at worst hated it. Certainly, this is a rare example of a female writer of fantasy and a female protagonist. Po, the strong male, is introduced as a love interest but Katsa never relies on him, indeed she supports him far more than the other way around. So, certainly this is a feminist fantasy, but the consensus was that it was unfair to consider it a girl’s book purely on this basis as novels such as Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts have similar themes but are immensely enjoyed by both genders. Whatever the gender, it was agreed (and is marketed as such) that it's certainly a good novel for younger readers who are thirsty for some old-fashioned adventure.
On the whole this was seen as a first novel with promise, but role of women the novel aside, did little to improve upon tried and tested fantasy tropes both in terms of plot, character, and world building.
The votes were as follows: 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8