Review: Graceling

Graceling

Gracelings are people gifted with abilities far above what anyone could call a talent. Katsa is gifted with the ability to run faster, strike harder and kill anyone better than anyone who has ever lived.

Graceling is the author Kristen Cashore’s first novel. It recounts the story of Katsa; a gifted killer in the employ of a King. Far beyond the norm for a girl; Katsa can run for hours, see in the dark and kill wild lions with her bare hands. She is dispatched to maim or terrify those that displease King Randa, to whom she owes total loyalty and fealty. Her secret rebellion against this world is discovered by another gifted fighter and Katsa joins him on a quest to learn the secret behind a royal kidnapping.

My rating: 4.5 stars
****1/2

For a first novel, this is certainly an excellent first impression; I shared the first chapter with my Daughter as I read it and she was so intrigued that she demanded that I read it to her in its entirety when I was finished with my review.  Graceling is exciting in places, contemplative in others and gorgeous in others.

The “Graced” inhabit a world that loves and fears them; save those that live free on an island kingdom removed from the politics of the mainland.  They are vetted and employed by kings and queens for their skills and live (for the most part) at the whim of others.  I couldn’t help but find a number of parallels between Graceling and 1602 (by Neil Gaiman) where the “Graced” are simple analogs to the Mutant heroes that populate comics (X-Men for example) but set in a Fantasy world. This is not a critical point however; it makes the characters somewhat familiar, not off-putting.

As for the characters themselves, we have the Mysterious Stranger/Love Interest, The Punk Nerd/Best Friend, The Older Man/Trainer, The Mother Analogue, the Overbearing Father and even the “wise ass little sister”.  Again; these are familiar archtypes that I encourage you to discover in the story for yourself, especially the spurned suitor.  Being a Young-Adult novel, complex characterizations aren’t what one would expect.

In the quiet moments, when the characters are just existing and no plot movement is going on we are treated to characters as people instead of archetypes and the author gives us people to sympathize with rather than thin action/adventure caricatures. The Quiet moments inevitably happen during some period of travel, which are as numerous as those in the Lord of the Rings; one could imagine the characters passing a pair of hairy-footed little people and having them curse under their breath “horses, why didn’t we think of horses?”

However; all of the characters save Po and Raffi seem to be dim, waiting on the Graced girl to do their thinking for them, Oll who is the spymaster for a King always seems to be one step behind Katsa.  Katsa may be a skilled fighter, but Raffi (and others) all remarked that she was not the most perceptive of people; but she has built a grand enterprise around her.  This uneven storytelling was off putting at points. Right there on page 183 Po calls out (in so many words) that the council proves that Katsa is much more intelligent than she gives herself credit for, which only enforces my concern with the storytelling regarding Katsa’s character.  We’re constantly given these adolescent characters who are not sure of themselves, but able to draw to themselves these crowds of followers.  Can’t we have a confident character who is also a protagonist?  The self-assured are usually villains and supporting characters, can’t we have a self-assured hero who is legitimate?

It is an old world we are given, with people of fantastic gifts who have become a part of every day life.  The extraordinary made tame if not banal.  Which, I suppose is what would happen; given the circumstances of the story.  People of great ability but limited means used as tools to an end; not quite slavery but not freedom either.  Po represents the departure from that form; his circumstances being exceptional in the world we are presented with.

As for the actual story?  By the later chapters I found myself willing the Author to forgo the very things that made the narriative so compelling, skip the traveling parts I would will the words to just vanish. It’s a well-paced, engaging piece of fantasy.  The characters, while thin at points, are still strong enough to make you want to follow them on.  I sussed the majority of the story early on (it’s a young adult fantasy, how complex do you want it to be) but I wasn’t bored, which is a great accomplishment.  I don’t need a surprise twist to enhance a story, I just need a strong narrative and characters that I enjoy spending my time on.  Graceling provides us with a semi-familiar fantasy setting with a rounded history and believable world that one could easily have loved as a teenager and thought back fondly on as an adult.

This is a review for mini book expo if you a Canadian blogger intereseted in reviewing books on your blog, please do not hesitate to visit.

Candian Politics: How to fix health care in Ontario (and the rest of Canada)

I like the ontario health care system; it has shown repeatedly that in a crunch; Ontario Doctors and Health Care workers can save your life and heal your ills.  Both of my parents are repeat Cancer survivors at zero cost (save gas) to them, I don’t think anyone south of the border can claim that save rare beneficiaries of other’s largess.

However, as some people have noted; the health care system in Ontario (and Canada) needs to change in order to maintain services.

Here is my Simple, if at times expensive, plan to save Health Care in Ontario:

No more paying for Medical Training

New doctors face long years of instruction and ongoing education costs; it’s expensive to become a doctor and then face paying for that education on a government paycheck.  Let’s make Education for ONTARIO doctors free.

  1. Fund education for General Practitioners at 100% if they sign a 10 year contract upon graduation that they will stay in Ontario and practice in one of the under serviced rural areas.  These are assigned via a lottery, rather than by any kind of relative need.
  2. Fund education for Specialists at 100% if that sign a 15 year contract upon graduation that they will stay in Ontario and practice in a central rural location.

These education benefits will ensure that Ontario will have a constant cycle of new doctors entering the system, these new doctors will be given a reason to settle in the various rural areas that they end up assigned to.  These contracts will be binding and contain penalties for early termination like the doctor having to pay back all granted funds plus earned interest at the prevailing rate when the contract was started.

At the end of the contract period doctors will be free to move on or stay in Ontario; however local incentive programs in the municipalities can be funded to retain those doctors (if necessary).  Ongoing education can also be funded as a further inducement to extend the medical service contracts.

The alternative is to continue to allow these same new grads to be lured away by the same material needs to other countries.

Imagine, 20-30 new doctors in Ontario’s rural areas each year, bringing the latest techniques and fresh enthusiasm to the job.   They will cut their teeth in Ontario and become the leaders of tomorrow.

What do you think?