Sunday, April 17, 2011

Review: Graceling (The Seven Kingdoms #1) by Kristin Cashore

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 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.


I read Graceling over a year ago and i feel it necessary to say: I don't like this book. The romance is incredibly unromantic and the rest of the story is some (crazy man-hating version of) feminist propaganda.

I happen to like books which feature feminist heroines and are light on the romance. So I should like this book, right? Yeah, but I didn't. First of all, Katsa acts like a petulant child throughout the entire book, not some feminist poster child. Also, I felt like the author spent too much time trying to sell us her agenda: dresses are the worst, femininity is wrong, men don't respect women, commitment ruins relationships, marriage is a tool of the devil, and so on.

Look, I understand that some women feel that way, and I'm completely cool with it. I'd be lying if I said I've never thought some of the same things once or twice. That said, I hate how the author shoves her views down my throat instead of telling me a story that causes me to think. To me it's clear Cashore strongly believes women need to act like men in order to be legitimate. Not just men but men who have intimacy issues.

Every other woman in this book is portrayed as weak and dumb. So basically, in the Seven Kingdom universe, unless you're an angry, dress-hating, man-hating woman with an aversion to commitment there is something wrong with you.

News Flash: femininity isn't anti-feminist. I'm sorry but it is possible for independent, intelligent and stable women to embrace their femininity without losing credibility. And anyway, isn't that the point of the feminist movement? Gaining equality without having to act like 'one of the guys'?

I could have handled Katsa's aversion to relationships if she hadn't had any feelings for Poe, or if she knew she wasn't emotionally ready to make that sort of commitment. But no, the whole thing was built up do be some great personal strength of hers. In the end it just felt like she ('she' being Katsa. Or Cashore. Kat-Shore?) was trying to prove a point or something, like "look at how independent I am. I'm not a barnacle. I don't need a man...except for when I needs teh sex. Poe, I'm sorry you lost your sight and all, but never fear, my lover, I'll prolly be drunk-dialing you in the future, cause I am comfortable with my sexuality. kthanxbai. *sob* Walking away is way hard, which is why I am so strong. *sob* Grrrrrrrrrrrrrl Powerrrrrr!"

Yeah, because being a loving, trusting, equal and committed relationship isn't a sign of strength. Strength can only be had by loners who don't like to commit because doing so will supposedly lower their self-worth ...ummm....I mean..."independent" people.

Also, it has to be said: The love scene grosses me out as much or more than the sex scene in Titanic and/or Avatar. Some people just don't know how to write a love scene. James Cameron and Kristin Cashore are among that group.

Two stars because the concept was cool. Too bad it was poorly executed.

Update 12/02/11: my feelings about this book have not changed but I feel the need to correct something.  Ever since reading this guest post over at The Book Lantern written by Katya of Readers United I've been feeling the need to come back here and take back a couple of my comments.  Katya points out authors are not their characters and I agree, they aren't.  They don't necessarily have to share their characters viewpoints or values.  

Kristin Cashore is not Katsa.  It was wrong of me to say so.  

That said, I really wish Katsa had grown to appreciate the fact that femininity is not a bad thing.  She didn't need to start loving dresses or anything, but I wish she'd have come across a character that was feminine and  strong, or married and equal to her partner.  I wish she'd have realized that it is possible to be an intelligent, independent woman without having to lash out all the time.  I'm not saying Katsa needed to change her lifestyle, but I would have liked to see her acknowledge that not all women are helpless morons. 

She despises all other women, does not seem proud to be a woman.  In fact, I'd say she's ashamed.  HOW IS THAT FEMINIST!?  It would have been great to see her trying to inspire others instead of look down on them.  

And anyway, I got the impression the only reason every man (except Po) took Katsa seriously is because she could kill just by touching another person, not because her work ethic, intellect or independence.  It's not like anyone would actually try to stop her from doing whatever the hell she wanted to do.  It's not like she actually had to fight for anything she wanted, unlike every other "stupid" woman in the seven kingdoms.  I fail to see how she's some feminist poster child.  Unless of course having the ability to kill others at will (because supposedly that's the only reason anyone would ever take a woman seriously) is requisite to being a card-carrying feminist.  If so, we're all screwed.   

Also?  All the angry lashing-out did not add to her credibility, if anything it took away from it.  Having a chip on your shoulder doesn't make you feminist.  I mean, yeah, some feminists do have a chip on their shoulder, but so do lots of people.  The two are not mutually exclusive.