Kristin Cashore's debut novel is, quite simply, astounding. It is a far cry from the weak, passive `heroines' that have recently been giving YA literature a bad name; the characters of Graceling spring to life, inviting--no, demanding--that the reader join their world, a place filled with vibrancy and life. From the first page to the last, Cashore's strong writing allows the reader to not only see her fantastical world through her imagination, but through their own: the strongly-defined world of the novel becomes almost as dear and familiar to the reader as something they themselves might have created.
Katsa, the protagonist of Graceling, is not merely a strong role-model for young-adult readers, but for any reader. She is not meek and easily controlled--though the theme of control does have a huge standing within the novel--but rather a young woman who is able to take her own destiny into her hands and mould it, shape it into something better for herself. Her reactions to the situations she finds herself in are believable and provoke empathy in the reader, something which I have been sorely unable to gather for much of the characters in the YA literature currently on the market. She is not, as so many characters seem to currently be, defined solely by her relationships; she loves with reason, and yet, simultaneously, without, for there can truly be no logic in love.
Graceling is largely character-driven, but that does not suggest that there is no plot, or that the plot to be found is below average. Indeed, I found myself unable to put this book down; I as much devoured this novel as simply read it. Perhaps my only complaint with the novel is the speed in which the antagonist is removed, but this is not an issue that truly impacted on my appreciation for, and delight with, the novel as a whole.
As soon as I'd finished reading Cashore's debut novel, I ordered from my local library the second in this fresh, vibrant new series, entitled Fire. I would recommend both of these novels to anyone who is remotely interested in fantasy or young-adult literature - I would even recommend them to those who are not, in the hopes that these powerful novels would sway their minds. Kristin Cashore's world is fantastical and yet realistic; the setting may not be our own world, but it is no less moving and believable for it.