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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Graceling Roundtable

This month's readergirlz book group pick is Graceling by Kristin Cashore. (Click here to read the September 2009 issue of readergirlz.)  The readergirlz divas and postergirlz gathered together to discuss this tale of fantasy, danger, and, dare we say, romance.

Lorie Ann Grover: As diva Justina Chen Headley said this month, "Action, adventure, love . . . all rolled up in a fiercely independent heroine who learns how to govern her gift and trust her heart. How could we not become smitten with Graceling?" It was an obvious choice for readergirlz. We send our congrats to Kristin for the Morris Award Nomination for an outstanding debut YA novel!

Little Willow: What was your basic impression of Graceling? Do you tend to reach for books in the fantasy genre?

Jackie: Okay, well, I'm a HUGE Tamora Pierce fan (as you, um, may already know), so this is right up my alley. Strong girl? A power that sets her apart from all others? Evil just waiting around the corner? A charming yet flawed romantic interest? Fight scenes? Yeah. That's totally my kind of thing.

Melissa: This is totally not my thing! I'm a big "real girl" reader, so I'm always a little hesitant to go fantasy. But I fell in love with Katsa from chapter 1, and really, what's a "real girl" anyway?!

Lorie Ann: I found it to be an engrossing, fast-paced fantasy. I do love fantasy, myself. And here I fell for Po. :~)

Shelf Elf: Ditto on the falling for Po, Lorie Ann. My perfect book is set in a fantasy world that is recognizably like the real world, with romance, nail-biting action, and plenty of flawed characters. Graceling checks all those boxes. Guess it's is my perfect book!
Dia: As a fantasy author myself, I, of course, adore fantasy. The premise of Graceling is fascinating -- a talent to kill. But it is interesting that we NEVER see Katsa kill anyone -- even in the beginning of the book when she is unredeemed. I can see the problem -- if she were shown killing someone she would no longer be a sympathetic character. And yet, for the fullest experience of her character arc, I think we needed to see her actually kill.

Little Willow: I agree, Dia - I think it would have been more effective had we seen (read) it.
Dia: I was hesitant at first about the fighting practice between Po and Katsa because it's hard for me to imagine hitting someone I care about. But, considering their skills, and talents, it was a way for them to bond and gain trust.

HWM: Yay for Graceling -- the strong girl, Po (the chemistry! the respect for each other's abilities!), political intrigue (though I wished there were more), good supporting characters, bad guys, action--this would make a great movie. Dia raises an interesting point. I never thought about how we never see Katsa kill anyone in the beginning. It would add to the character arc since we could see the horror and regret; however, I was fine the way the story was since she spends so much time despising her power and how other people react to her, how she hates how her uncle treats her like a dog to do his bidding. 
Little Willow: What did you think of Katsa, the protagonist?

Jackie: My only sadness is that she's not in the prequel. 

HWM: Oh, I agree!

Melissa: I loved her, and found her perfectly characterized for teen readers -- she's strong but stubborn, smart but impetuous, and ruled by her emotions. It's all very familiar...

Lorie Ann: I enjoyed Katsa. In my second reading, I almost found her to be acting mildly autistic at the start, as if she might have slight Aspergers. She's gifted so much that it has distracted her from learning to observe and communicate with people. An example is how she didn't realize Giddon's attraction. This adds nicely to her arc as she grows.  
Little Willow: Ooh. That's a very interesting take on her character, Lorie Ann.
Dia: I think the talent to kill, and being forced to do it by -- was it her uncle the king? -- would take anyone to dark places in their psyche. Cashore achieves the right balance between Katsa's darkness and her innate goodness.
Shelf Elf: I think it's a real achievement that Kristin created such a powerful character, physically powerful and full of complex emotion, whom readers can also see as vulnerable.

HWM: Loved her. The strong kick-butt girl with a conscience who battles between good and evil.

Little Willow: Who were your favorite supporting characters?

Melissa: Bitterblue!

Little Willow: Oh, yes, little Bitterblue!

Melissa: What a poised and lovely girl. And of course Katsa's gaggle of "just friends" boys... those are always fun.

Lorie Ann: Have to go with Po.

Shelf Elf: Again Lorie Ann, ditto with the Po. ;)
Dia: I, too, really enjoyed Bitterblue. And Po of course!

HWM: Raffin.
Little Willow: How does Graceling tie-in with this month's theme of Triumph at readergirlz?

Lorie Ann: Katsa triumphs over her own Grace and fears, her physical environment, and the politics of evil rulers.

Dia: Katsa triumphs over the darkness in her self that has come to her through the execution of her gift.

Shelf Elf: Katsa makes the choice to use her powers for good, not evil. There's triumph in mastering yourself, in making choices to be proud of. 

Little Willow:
What are your hidden strengths? (Though I suppose if you answer this, they are no longer hidden!)
Dia: I wish somebody would tell me!

Shelf Elf: Dancing? I never dance publicly, but I'm great in the living room. I've got rhythm.

Little Willow: Now I'm singing and dancing to the song I've Got Rhythm! I'm a singer, dancer, and actress, but I don't hide those things. Hmmm. I think one of my hidden strengths is my resilience. I bounce back pretty well from rejection or let-down. I try to always stay optimistic and hopeful. Another would be my derring-do. When things need to be done, I get them done. It's only when others comment upon them that I realize not everyone would have done those things - that they might have thought the tasks too difficult to even attempt and stopped before they even began.

Lorie Ann
: I hope it's perseverance. So far it is.

Little Willow: The condition of having eyes of two different colors, like Kat and the others who are Graced, is called heterochromia of the eye (heterochromia iridis or heterochromia iridum). What color are your eyes? Mine are brown.

Shelf Elf: Mine are the type of eyes that seem to change color depending on the light and my clothing. Most of the time they're greyish green. I've always sort of wished for eyes that were a real, deep, obvious color.  I'd go with seriously green, because you don't see that very often.

Melissa: Mine are green, but they sometimes look blue. I like that -- no one ever really knows which they are. Maybe I'm a Graceling! And you too, Shelf Elf!
Little Willow: We have Graced ones in our presence! Can you envision yourself with eyes of a different color?

Lorie Ann
: Mine are brown, and often red. Ha! I always thought green would be nice.

Little Willow: I like the color of my eyes and my hair (also brown) and I wouldn't permanently change the color, though I wouldn't mind doing something temporary to either for the sake of a role, because that would be for her, for my character. For me, though, I like what I have, and I like what I am.  That being said, I think purple or gray (or magically silver) eyes would be pretty, because I like those colours in general.

Dia: I have gray-green eyes. When I was in high school and college I wore green-tinted contact lenses. That was fun!

Little Willow: Also consider the eye colors that are more prevalent on animals other than humans, like orange. My cats had beautiful eyes. Twinkie's were the bluest blue, truly the prettiest eyes I've ever seen - while Hollywood and Spooky had eye colors not typically seen on people, orange and gold.

HWM: Dark brown. Wouldn't change the color at all.
Little Willow: What did you think  of Kristin Cashore's writing style?

Melissa: My heart stopped when Leck appeared toward the end. I didn't see it coming, and I got very scared and upset for a moment there! I guess that means the writing worked. I just adored the tale.
Lorie Ann: I'm in my second read-through, but I remember wanting marriage at the conclusion. I know, I know. So opposite to what Katsa wants. But that's me. When they first left together, I didn't think I'd be able to lie next to Po night after night platonically... I did enjoy the characterization, plot, pacing, and final revelations. I admire all the fighting detail!

I love the combination of fantasy, adventure, and romance. The grand climax where Katsa confronts the king was stunning. Excellent plotting.

Shelf Elf: Gosh, she's so good at romance, and really freaky bad guys.

HWM: The ending was great -- the characters surprised me (the scene with Leck was great) and I remember wanting to throttle Po and Katsa. There were a few scenes I wanted to see more development, but overall, the plotting, pacing and characterization was spot on. 

Little Willow: What (or who) do you hope to find in Fire, Kristin Cashore's next book?

Jackie: I am lucky enough to have already read it, thanks to a friend, so while I already know what happens, I will say I was VERY interested in the one crossover character.

Shelf Elf: Like you Jackie, I'm lucky to have read Fire already. I was hoping that the characters would be as memorable as all those in Graceling. They are.

Lorie Ann: I'm totally up for whatever Kristin has brought from her heart.
Dia: I would like to see Katsa continue to evolve -- and more of Po of course!

HWM: I've also been fortunate to have read Fire. So different from Graceling, but the one character who does make himself known, Leck -- shudder.
Little Willow: Final thoughts?
Lorie Ann: Thanks so much to Kristin for bringing us a fantasy with such girl power. We rise to the top of the mountains with Katsa. I'm sure we'll continue to soar with Kristin through her long career!

Learn more about Graceling in the September 2009 issue of readergirlz.


Kristin Cashore said...

Oh man, how sweet are you guys?

Kristin Cashore said...

Oh, but wait, one thing did confuse me. Um... Katsa kills lots of people! Her distant cousin and the guy Randa sent her out to Estill to kill when she was little (both in flashback); and in real time, the soldiers searching for Bitterblue in the woods; and, of course, the biggie near the end that I won't spell out because it's a spoiler.

Not confusing Katsa with Katniss, by any chance, are you? :o) (Or maybe I completely misunderstood the point)

Rhiannon Hart said...

Katniss kills too--but only the characters that the reader has already been persuaded to dislike.

I love Graceling!

Little Willow said...

Thanks for checking out the roundtable, Kristin! :)

As per the killing, I was referring to early on - that we heard she had, starting when she was younger, but didn't see a lot of scenes from back then. I think it would have been effective to have seen Kat-as-a-kid doing such things to shock readers into realization and create an even bigger/better foundation for her character and motivation (hesitation versus obligation, power versus morals). Blame it on my affection for the original Twilight Zone and The Bad Seed. :)

Melissa Walker said...

Such a fun book to discuss!

Kristin Cashore said...

Little Willow, got it! That makes sense.

Lorie Ann Grover said...

Thanks for checking out the roundtable, Kristin! Oh, my. It feels like you overheard us in the lunchroom. I need to go back and read it again!

Dia Calhoun said...

Yes, I agree with Little Willow exactly.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Kristen, it was wonderful. Katsa and Po are wonderful together. I think I won't be able to start another book for at least a month now. I blame you and your amazing book ;)

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