Men Are People Too, Y'Know?

Graceling - Kristin Cashore

Vanilla. 

And 2008.

That's my review of this book.

 

 

Despite being a fantasy book, for some reason Graceling read very different from the recent YA-fantasy books I've been reading. There's a hollowness in the world building, I never connected with the characters and their troubles and some of the message this book tried to cut across was done quite crudely.

Some of the recent books that I've read from this genre rely on some level of familiarity in setting the foundations of their worlds. Girl of Fire and Thorns feels like its set in Spain in the 1500's, Siege and Storm is set in a world reminiscent of early 20th century Russia. Which are all well and good for what they're trying to do. But creating a society original and from scratch, without the crutch of history, you set the bar a little higher for yourself. And let's just say I was expecting more since Cashore so bravely took this path. 



If The Biebs says so then it must be true right?

Because without these details all that courage will be all for naught. The cultural norms, the society's morals and ethics… all of these factor in to the logic of the characters' actions. Things that I had to fill in myself to this skeletal world to make sense of what's going on. Case in point: Po rushes to the rescue of distant relatives without much background in their relationships. I especially found it odd that Bitterblue doesn't even know him on their first encounter. I guess I was looking for a deeper reason beyond the simplistic familial ties for Po to have done the things he had done for her. 

I was initially thrilled of the idea of a Secret Council disobeying the orders of the King and how there's an underground network of vigilantes in all seven kingdoms doling out their own kind of justice. It was a major disappointment that this took a backseat soon after the first section was over.

Katsa's representation of the strong heroine feel a bit antiquated. If Celaena from Throne of Glass is a lipstick feminist, Katsa is the bra burning extremist. There were points in the story that made me extremely uncomfortable:

 

She showed Bitterblue all of the soft places to stab a man if she wanted to kill him - throat, neck stomach, eyes - the easy places that required less force.


I liked that she's teaching a ten year-old victim of abuse some self-defense lessons but I didn't like that this assumes all the bad people in the world are men. I kinda wished Katsa's strength as a heroine wasn't at the expense of coming across as sexist. I mean, MEN ARE PEOPLE TOO, Y'KNOW and I kinda like them for changing tires, giving orgasms and making children (not necessarily in that order of importance). Can't we all be a person first and our gender second? This issue actually spills into the Katsa-Po dynamic.

"I wouldn't catch you doing anything you didn't want to do."

And here was what was rapidly becoming her favorite aspect of Po's Grace: He knew, without her telling him, the things she did want to do.


But what about what Po wants? Do I really want a man who would tell me the things that I want to hear? Would I really swoon over someone who can read my thoughts and emotions and thus adjust his behavior to pacify me at all times? No matter how many times he reassures me its to the contrary?

I dunno, because that sounds an awful lot like a doormat. It's as if Po's character is collateral damage from all the EXTREME AWESOME-ing of Katsa leading him to fail on so many levels as a hero. I love a beta hero as much as the next girl but I like it better when there's tension, some push and pull between the protagonists just to keep things interesting.

The narrative and the dialogue felt a bit strange. Some books felt like its being majestically read by James Earl Jones in my mind, some by Samuel L. motherfuckin' Jackson.. this read a little lost for me.There were a lot of for he's not wild…, for I couldn't even…, for she was distracted…, for he told wonderful stories…etc. which was okay in moderation but started to niggle as the story went on and it didn't let up. There was a stretch of time where Katsa and Po kept on talking to Bitterblue, saying her name after every turn of phrase. I may be getting hypercritical but for godsakes, stop calling Bitterblue Bitterblue in her face! She knows her name FFS!

And speaking of Bitterblue...



I think I'm being seriously bitchy towards that poor child but why does she need to be alive? 

(Because she needs to inherit the throne from her father? Because Katsa needs to carry someone through a mountain covered with deadly snow? Because Katsa needs someone to protect from a mountain lion?)

Why does Po and Katsa need to care about the lineage of Monsea?

(Because… World Peace?)

But why does it have to be them?

(Because… book 3? Um.. something something, squirrel!)

(show spoiler)

 

 


Okay, honestly it wasn't that bad but when you pit it against the current YA-High Fantasy Series pool, it kinda fades in the background. Which is really strange because among genres, fantasy should be bulletproof from being dated. This wasn't. With what the third book promises (an ENTIRE book about Bitterblue? No thanks.) I don't think I'm going to continue with this series.