Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Graceling’

“You were the one I treated the worst, only because you loved me the most”

Kristin Cashore, who wrote the novel upon which this comic is based, gets top billing on the cover, but Graceling is adapted and drawn by Gareth Hinds, who gets second billing. I get that, but it’s still annoying. This is published by Etch, which is an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and we’re going to have a look at it!

There’s a lot to like about Graceling, although it’s not a great comic. The two main characters, Katsa and Po, have a nice relationship – yes, they fall in love, because of course they do, but it’s not a terribly clichéd way of falling in love. It’s a bit hesitant, because Katsa, especially, does not want to fall in love, but their relationship is never stereotypically antagonistic until they suddenly realize they love each other – it’s a relationship of mutual respect that slowly turns to love, and even then, they don’t automatically subsume their personalities into the other. They remain independent people, and they have to figure out if they can make a romance when confronted with all the other things going on.

The book is set in a fantasy world in which seven kingdoms jockey for prominence. Katsa is the niece of the king of the centrally located kingdom, and she has a special power – a Grace, as they’re called in the book – that is very useful to the king: she’s excellent at killing. The king, naturally, uses her as an assassin. She meets Po, a prince from a different kingdom, whose Grace, it turns out, is something like mind-reading, which he hides because nobody would trust him if they knew (Katsa herself gets quite angry when she finds out, which proves his point for him). At the beginning of the book, Katsa rescues Po’s grandfather from another kingdom, but her king doesn’t want anyone to know about it. Po finds out and comes to her court just to see him and make sure he’s fine. Due to his quasi-mind-reading, he’s able to fight Katsa pretty well, so they spar a lot (no one else can fight against her). When her king gives her an order she doesn’t like, she defies him and leaves the court. She heads off to a secluded kingdom with Po, as he thinks their king is behind the kidnapping of his grandfather. Apparently, his aunt is married to the king, and they have a daughter. Po thinks the king – who has a very good reputation despite the seclusion of the kingdom – isn’t as groovy as everyone says he is. He’s not, but there’s a very interesting reason for it. The two of them head off on an adventure, and fall in love. They rescue Po’s cousin, but things don’t go smoothly, and they have to figure out a way to escape and stop the king. It’s all very adventurous!

The book is interesting because it doesn’t simply fit into fantasy stereotypes. The worst stereotype it embodies is the rudimentary nature of the kingdoms, which seem to barely exist politically and geographically. This might be a complaint unique to me, but that’s because I love good world-building, and the world in Graceling isn’t built particularly well. When the plot involves high-level politics, this is a bit of a detriment, but the good things about the plot – Katsa and Po’s relationship, mainly – do tend to mitigate it a bit. The other characters are interesting, too. The dude who digs Katsa is kind of a jerk, but not in an over-the-top misogynistic way, just in a jealous way. Katsa’s best friend isn’t in the book that much, but he’s a nice character, as well. Po’s cousin, Bitterblue, is a precocious youngster who knows the world is a lot more dangerous than people want a young girl to know, and she acts accordingly. Even the two kings, one of whom is evil and the other of whom just seems like an asshole, have distinct personalities that set them apart even though they’re both jerks. The fact that Katsa is light-skinned and Po is dark-skinned isn’t a big deal, either, which is nice. They’re just people.

I don’t know how much Hinds left in or out of the novel, but the art is all his, and it’s pretty good. Like the text, the art shows a fairly basic world, with random castles, a few random buildings, and not much else, but again, that’s a somewhat minor complaint. Hinds does a very nice job with the natural scenery, as Katsa and Po have to cross the mountains into the evil king’s domain, and Hinds does a wonderful job showing how forbidding it is. He gives us an opulent palace in Po’s island nation, contrasting it well with Katsa’s more medieval castle in which she lives at the start of the book. His characters are very nicely done, as they are all unique and have their own personalities and styles. Katsa, early on, looks uncomfortable in the trappings of a princess, and she actually cuts her hair short later (people in fiction rarely change their hair styles, so I like it when they do) and begins wearing more functional clothing as a symbol of her independence. Po is much more comfortable in fancier clothing, implying his training as a prince from birth. Hinds’s figures are a bit stiff, but he makes up for that in the action scenes with very good choreography and blocking, so that we can always tell what’s going on. He does a nice job using heavier lines on the figures and occasionally simply painting the backgrounds, and in the flashbacks he uses a lighter line, as well, which adds to the “nostalgic” feeling we usually get with flashbacks. At the end, he does some nice work with a black background and what appear to be crayon lines, which is a pretty neat effect. It’s a nice-looking comic, in other words.

As I noted, this isn’t a great comic, but it’s entertaining. There’s nothing wrong with that! I don’t know if Hinds plans to adapt more of Cashore’s books in this series, but I wouldn’t mind checking them out if he does!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

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