A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Graceling is the first highly acclaimed book in Kristin Cashore's Graceling Realm series for mature teens and adults that includes Fire, Bitterblue, and Winterkeep. You can read this book or Fire first, but you'll need to read Graceling before Bitterblue and Winterkeep to understand this world filled with corrupt kingdoms and kings and Gracelings -- those with amazing talents -- who live among them. The main character, Katsa, is a Graced fighter for her uncle, the king, at the beginning of the story. She kills, injures, and intimidates those who don't do what he wants. Violence follows Katsa even when she stands up to her uncle and leaves the kingdom, with only the occasional gory detail. A mother is shot and killed with an arrow by her husband while their daughter hides from him. A main character with an arrow wound is seriously injured when he falls off a cliff into a lake. Soldiers are killed with arrows, throwing knives, and swords. Girls are sexually harassed and threatened by older men. There are mentions of a king who tortures and kills animals and young girls with a mention that he's taken an "unhealthy interest" in his 10-year-old daughter. Other mature content includes some drinking and a sexual relationship between the main characters with some detail, including talk of contraception. Katsa begins the book as a killer with lots of anger and by the end of the story evolves into a person bent on protecting others, especially girls, and teaching them how to protect themselves.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
In GRACELING, Katsa is on a secret rescue mission when she encounters trouble. She breaks into a rival kingdom's dungeons to free an elderly prince from the country of Lienid, then runs into another Lienid man sneaking onto the castle grounds. She knows she should kill him and escape with her spies before he raises an alarm, but as they fight she realizes he's Graced -- magically gifted -- with a fighting ability and she's intrigued. Katsa is also a Graceling with a similar Grace, only stronger. When she's not doing secret rescue work for her council of spies, she's forced to use her Grace to bully, injure, and sometimes kill for her uncle, the king of the Middluns. After Katsa knocks the Lienid Graceling out and races away, she thinks she's safe, only to encounter him again at her uncle's castle. Where is my grandfather, he wants to know, and why have you taken him? He's a prince of Lienid, and his questions just lead to many more. It seems the kingdom who kidnapped his grandfather was only holding him for someone else. But who? And why? Katsa would like to help the young prince find the answer, but first she must escape her cruel uncle.
Is it any good?
Here's a novel you can recommend equally to fantasy, adventure, and romance fans because it excels in all three genres and delivers an unforgettable female hero to boot. The fantasy world is richly drawn, a land of small kingdoms, mostly ruled by petty kings, who use those born with Graces, or super abilities, however they see fit -- unless they're Graced with something not useful to them like super-swimming. With Katsa, the main character, Graced with a fighting ability (and more that's revealed late in the story), you'd think she was invincible. That's until she encounters a cruel king who doesn't attack her physically, but mentally, with his Grace. Katsa's love interest, Prince Po -- whose Grace is also more than it appears to be -- is the only one who can help her fight him. He's also the only one who can help Katsa understand her anger, and the only one who can reach her emotionally. This is the rare love story of two independent souls who never want to marry, and it works on a much more intriguing level than the "happily ever after" kind.
As for the adventure, there are plenty of skirmishes -- where Katsa kills everyone herself -- and plenty of days traveling and camping in the wilds and on a ship at sea. And then there are two chapters over a dangerous mountain pass about as gripping as an Everest survival novel -- maybe more so when Katsa battles a cougar with her bare hands. Prepare to enjoy Graceling on so many levels, and don't forget to read the follow-up, Fire. It's just as good.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about all the ways Katsa and Po are not a stereotypical fantasy book couple in Graceling. How does Po react to Katsa being the stronger fighter, for starters? And who is the one who says they will never marry? Do you read about many romances like this one?
When Katsa leaves her uncle's kingdom she says that "mercy was more frightening than murder." What do you think would have happened if she killed the king? Would the book have been more violent than it is already? Would Katsa have turned out differently?
Whose Grace would you like to have? Why?
- Author: Kristin Cashore
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Adventures, Horses and Farm Animals, Wild Animals
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Harcourt Brace
- Publication date: October 1, 2008
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14
- Number of pages: 471
- Last updated: December 13, 2020
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