Graceling by Kristin Cashore: a decent new debut novel

Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by Werthead, Jul 19, 2008.

  1. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    Just reviewed this book. I was trying very hard to avoid the word 'nice', because it always feels like it's word to use when you want to damn a book with faint praise. But this is indeed a very 'nice' book which I enjoyed reading and a nice contrast to some of the heavier books I've been reading recently.

     
  2. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

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    Hobbit just reviewed this last week.
     
  3. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    Seriously, we're going to punk her on the names? This is what it's come down to, has it? We're going to have politically correct name codes now? They don't seem any worse to me than anyone else's.

    Her being thrust into YA in the States highlights a problem that has developed in the U.S. market. Having an assassin for the main character in a YA is, um, interesting.

    How does the author deal with a main character who is innately able to kill and forced to do it, as well as being of royal birth? What sort of person is Katsa?
     
  4. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    Well:

    Kiska leaves the King's service about ten minutes into the book, and from her flashbacks there's an indication that most of the people she tortured and killed were 'bad', although there's a few good people she definitely feels remorse over. However, none of these happen in much detail in the present-day storyline. Kiska spends most of the time feeling angry about being a killer simply because that's what her abilities are, but there is a cool twist later in the book when it is revealed her grace has been mis-identified.
     
  5. Mithfânion

    Mithfânion Lord of the Wild Hunt

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    The names are very simplistic and unappealing. There is nothing wrong with reviewers pointing that out. Since in Fantasy I often find that the quality and originality of the names used is indicative of quality of the books.
     
  6. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    Really? Sapkowski has some pretty stupid names and he's really good. Bakker's names may be internally logically consistent, but they are a bit clunky and they don't detract from his books at all. I also didn't find the Redick sufferered much from having some bad names, although lots of other people did.

    We could go into Erikson as well, but since I know you're not a fan that's probably not a good example.
     
  7. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    I'm sure that those who regard "whimsical" names as a literary evil are deeply relieved to have been alerted. (Not that these names truly are; see Susannah Clarke for proper whimsey.) Whereas those who are sick and tired of the complicated D&D names in fantasy were no doubt delighted.

    Those of us who, however, prefer to assess novels on something other than the author's name selection, are seeking story information. Thank you for your elaboration Wert, but I was also interested in her personality, such as you assessed it. Also, what was the Prince like?
     
  8. Mithfânion

    Mithfânion Lord of the Wild Hunt

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    Katsa? King Randa? Po the Prince?

    How much lamer and simplistic can your names get? This sounds totally run-of-the-mill.

    I don't see what this has to do with whimsical or a like or dislike of other books; on it's own it sounds very silly. And oftentimes that is an indicator of quality in my experience.

    Intelligent and unbiased readers who have the ability to read and pick up nuances will know that this is not the same as proclaiming a book a mishit in advance, it's just that the signs are poor and it doesn't invite me to read it.

    Prince Po, right? Or his younger brother, Prince Pipi?
     
  9. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    I see, so if he was called Grisheand'real the Prince, that's better? Or John Stormbreaker and his sword Blackknife? Judah Low? Which conformist, formulaic, acceptably gravitas fantasy name should he have?

    Whimsical came from the reviews, not from me. And it was raised as a main complaint about the book, not simply a poor sign, which it isn't in any case for most people. Indeed, it wasn't for Wert, but he raised it because he knew others may gripe. You may get your indicators from such things, but I don't, and so I am after other information about the story. I like the concept of someone who has had to kill from what seems her own nature and is then fighting against it. I'd like to know more about how that worked.

    So, the Prince, with the super sword skills, (and I don't care if his name is Po Broodypants, though with the Asian aspect to his first name, perhaps that is unlikely,) what's he like?

    And Wert, is tying up all the ends a preference tick you have, or did you feel that it really didn't work well for this particular story?
     
  10. Mithfânion

    Mithfânion Lord of the Wild Hunt

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    Something that sounds like someone actually put some thought into it. Something that doesn't scream Young Adult. Or adult but self published. Something that indicates here is a world worth visiting and that I'd like to see more of. Something that sounds like Fantasy rather than something you'd think up in grammar school.

    Look, if names have no meaning for you then names like this are fine. If you expect a bit more, like I do, then it's not particularly alluring.
     
  11. Hobbit

    Hobbit Administrator Staff Member

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    As it was my review that seems to have caused a commotion, I'll qualify a few points.

    1) The names were an annoyance to me and I thought that it was right to say so. If they were annoyances to me then they may be off-putting to others, as Mith has said they could be for him. Sometimes the names just don't work for individuals, even in Fantasy where you have to suspend your disbelief. If they don't work, then that might detract from the reader's enjoyment. And yes, despite what you say, it may be a cultural thing: what works in the US or the UK doesn't always work elsewhere. It was a point that struck a dischord for me on this occasion.

    It is interesting that Wert has also pointed that out in his review: I hadn't read his review before writing mine, but it seems to be something that he is at least aware of, even if he hasn't reacted in the same way as I have.

    2) Having said that, I also pointed out that many elements of the books that I thought did work, and that if you could get around the issue that I had, there was a lot to enjoy:

    As for story selection, that's been covered:

    There is a always a balance between giving the story away and reviewing; I felt that further details would spoil the story for those who would enjoy it. To be fair, I think Kristin has put a great deal of thought into her story, and such names may not be an issue for her nor other readers. But as I felt it was for me, it would be unfair for me not to point out my personal misgivings.

    For those of who who wish to assess the book on things other than names, Kat, the choice is simple: buy the book.

    Mark / Hobbit
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2008
  12. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

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    Not related to Graceling, but the names issue, character names can be problematic. For example, the only thing that bothers me about Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy is the name of the protagonist, Vin. While in general a character's name won't make or break the story, it can be a part of why I do (or don't) like a specific book & writer.
     
  13. MadPiper

    MadPiper New Member

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    The name Pug from Fiests books always bugged me. Now, I have yet to read this debut novel, so I can make no real comment on the content of the book itself, but some of the names given from this book would also bother me as well. They just seem... lame. Would they make me stop reading the book? Doubtful, but it would be a minor grievance.

    My two zeni.
     
  14. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    How do you know she didn't put any thought into it, Mith? That's an awfully big assumption to make just because you didn't like the names. You say they are simplistic, which is a debatable point as they seem to me to be very pointed, and you say they are therefore YA, which is also a debatable point. Further, you state that such names indicate to you inferior quality, which implies that you regard all YA fiction or anything resembling YA fiction (screams YA) as inferior. Therefore, your assessment of a novel that is being sold as YA as having YA names and consequently being inferior, whether you've read a work or not, is not particularly persuasive. Nor is it a very good argument for the idea that names are a good method of assessment that reviewers should endorse for both adult and YA fiction.

    The name Katsa has an Eastern European feel to it and her uncle's name follows the phonetic pattern. The names Greening Grandemalion, (which is a great name,) Tealiff, and Bitterblue are directed. They are fairy names and clearly have a symbolic rationale to them.

    I would still like not plot information, but character information. I don't see why stating whether Katsa is fiesty, witty and angry or depressed, shy and angry in her self-loathing is such a big deal or will give away the story. Apparently, it is of less import than what she is called, and of less import than that she has a love interest.

    This information, though, might help me decide if I want to read the work. Since what I've got here are two lukewarm reviews that seem disappointed the book is not more like Scott Lynch's work, a little more info for those of us who don't mind that sort of thing might be good. If you can do it, great, if not, thank you for reviewing the book.
     
  15. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    I never qualitively compared the book to Scott Lynch. I merely said it wasn't generating the same kind of pre-release coverage, and that seems to be the case.

    I think with stories that are trying to be true-to-life or gritty or more realistic, than having open-ended storylines is fine. However, Graceling is more akin to a fairy tale and thus having most things tied up is more satisfying. There is one large element that isn't (the villain's backstory), and that is what is providing the basis for the prequel.

    Oh yeah, and Katsa has moments of self-loathing but much greater disgust for other people, the King in particular. She's quite angry for most of the story, but calms down later on. She has a strong sense of what is right and wrong, which when combined with her uncle's orders often creates conflict and angst.
     
  16. Mithfânion

    Mithfânion Lord of the Wild Hunt

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    I don't "know" it. That's why I said it "sounded" like names that didn't have any thoughts put into it. Why I said they sounded lame and simplistic. Who knows, maybe she sat at home in her rocking chair for years thinking up these names, and just came out in the end doing a poor job. Or, perhaps like you, she just doesn't think naming is important in Fantasy and secondary worlds.

    Other than that, you not finding my opinions "particularly persuasive" is about as surprising as sunshine in Africa, since you hold the opposite opinion. You think the names are fine, you don't want reviewers to say they are not fine, and you're not someone known to change her mind once positions have been taken. In short, I agree to completely disagree with your take and opinions on this book.

    And I'm sure the fact that this is an unknown female author just trying to break into the market has absolutely nothing to do with your vehement defense ;)
     
  17. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    Thanks, Wert.

    I didn't say that names weren't important in Fantasy fiction, Mith. What I said was that having as a main complaint the fact that the names were seen as cute rather than cool was a poor way to assess someone's writing ability. And perhaps misses the point of the names in relation to the story, just because they aren't big, bad, strong names. (As also in Red Wolf Conspiracy, where the names are deliberately Victorian-style.)

    As for the author's gender, I'd have the same complaint if she were male, because then he'd get the same back-handed compliments -- it's not gritty, but it's okay for a fairy tale. A fairy tale about an assassin who is angry and trying to get in control of her life.

    Look, I think the world of Mark and appreciate Wert giving us the head's up so often -- it's not like they get paid for doing this -- but the thread is to discuss the work, and saying it has well-drawn characters with twee names is not much of a comment on it. And if the book is going to end up in the nice ghetto, review-wise, I think it could at least be for something more substantial than character names. So I asked for an elaboration.

    As for my persuasion comment, I meant persuading others, not me. :) But if it makes you feel better, Mith, I can remember at least three instances where you did persuade me on a point.

    So, anything else about the novel worth mentioning? How would you compare it to Alison Croggon's work, for instance?
     
  18. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    Well, curse it, I do sincerely apologize to Kristin Cashore. I hope my dust-up about character names does not discourage anyone from checking out the book, as it does sound interesting. And thanks again to Mark and Wert for taking the time to review it.
     
  19. Mithfânion

    Mithfânion Lord of the Wild Hunt

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    I was reading Don D'Amassa's review site today and he just reviewed this book here:

    http://www.dondammassa.com/r2c2008.htm

    For what it's worth, he does confirm my feeling when reading the naming of the characters that this is actually a book in the Young Adult field of the market. Not a value judgement per se, but it does enforce my comment that oftentimes you only need to read a synopsis and the names of the characters to see if a book is or is not Young Adult.
     
  20. Hobbit

    Hobbit Administrator Staff Member

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    And Graeme seems to have had similar issues HERE.
    Mark / Hobbit