Olyvia purchased this on my behalf – I had been given a voucher for Dymocks, which is a terrible choice, because there are so few Dymocks stores, and they are so far away from anywhere I go. Time passed, and eventually reached the point where I one day to spend the voucher or lose it – losing it seemed a terrible waste, so Olyvia offered to go to Dymocks and purchase a book – basically she read out names over the phone until finding something I didn’t own. I had never heard of Kristin Cashore before, and I like finding new authors, so it sounded fine to me.
I was more skeptical when Olyvia arrived home with the book. For a start, it was a softcover edition, which I particularly dislike (I like paperback, because it’s comfortable to read, and I like hardback, because it looks nice and ages well, but softcover has none of the advantages and many of the disadvantages). In addition, the cover is terrible – it has a moderately attractive women in light armour holding a sword – it looks like a bad book trying to attract teen readers.
However, once I got around to reading it, I was pleasantly surprised. The ‘magic’ of the world is that some people have extreme talents – rather than just being really good at something, they are ‘magically’ good at it. In a really nice touch, the talent might be anything, even the mediocre (it reminded me of the heroes with mediocre talents in Lafferty‘s Playing for Keeps). Although the central characters have talents that are far more impressive, the general way that ‘graces’ were developed was very enjoyable.
The central characters, Katsa and Po, were both well developed, and enjoyable to read. The antagonist was a little weak – we never really get to know him, so there’s less at stake than with a more developed villain. However, his ability was suitably impressive, and his lack didn’t detract from the story’s other strengths too much.
(Minor spoiler alert). I did feel that the book ended rather suddenly – although it was obvious that it was getting close to the end (there weren’t many pages to turn), the story only seemed part-way through. I was really expecting a partial conclusion with a sequel (or two) to finish the story off – although this is probably partly due to the ubiquity of trilogies within the genre). However, with only a small number of pages to go, the story is completely resolved. Although it ended cleanly and it did create a real echo of surprise to match the character’s surprise, it still felt quite rushed.
In general, this felt like a really good story by a slightly inexperienced writer. I think someone with more experience would have been able to flesh out the antagonist more and create a less rushed ending – although these would probably both have meant a longer book. The story changes a little abruptly about a third of the way through, and I think a more experienced writer would have tied the parts together a little better as well.
Overall, it was a very enjoyable read (it’s unfortunate that the publisher didn’t find a better cover artist), and I highly recommend reading it. I hope to read more from Cashore in the future, and expect that later novels will have more polish than this one, while hopefully retaining the originality and great character development found here.