Welcome back, guys! For those of you who don’t know, with the Graceling Realm getting a fourth installment, I thought it high time for another full series reread. And because book reviews are dull and pointless for events such as this, I decided to do something else instead. I’ve already done a top ten moments for Fire, so you can read that here. But now it’s time to talk about the best parts in Graceling!
The rules are simple. I must choose ten specific scenes/chapters in the book. No more, no less, no matter how much I want to just toss them all here. Which means breaking my poor, poor, heart, because there’s too many moments to make the choosing easy. Let’s see how this goes.
Number Ten: “Katsa, only you would consider the collapse of the ceiling a good joke.” (Pg 464)
Just prior to Bitterblue’s coronation, Katsa and Po are in a bedroom, waiting, and Po’s been grinning like a devil. At the ceiling, to be fair, as he lay on the bed. But of course it’s not the ceiling that he’s grinning about. He’s sensed Raffin’s approach, and Katsa doesn’t even know they were invited to the coronation. The reunion, of course, is sweet.
Number Nine: “Tomorrow he would be able to tell her about a landslide on the other side of the world, and they would both faint.” (Pg 265)
As they travel in the direction of Monsea, Po’s Grace continues to evolve so it’s not just people he senses, but his surroundings. He surprises Katsa with berries that had grown a little ways off, out of sight, and when he confesses that the intensity of his growing Grace is a bit disorienting, we get this little gem of a quote.
Number Eight: “…Bear can handle yourself, too, and himself, and your two prisoners, and carry a sword, and hold a light–all at the same time.” (Pg 380)
Bitterblue and Katsa are on the run, searching for a ship bound for Lienid, and they come across Captain Faun’s ship. The above quote was as Katsa and Bitterblue were first being led onto the ship, and a young sailor tries to insist he doesn’t need help taking the two of them to the captain. The older sailor’s response is a familiar brand of well-intentioned snarkiness that I might expect from my own coworkers, bred from having to spend far too much time with each other.
But the scene gets even better when Katsa presents herself, her gold, and her case to the Captain. To prove she did not steal Po’s Lienid gold, she shows Po’s ring. In the ensuing chaos, we learn that for Po to have given her his ring was to abdicate his very identity, something rarely done in Lienid, only ever done on one’s deathbed, if at all. Katsa threatens to pummel out his reasonings for giving her the ring and scaring her like this, a very Katsa-like answer. The entire interaction, too, informs the reader secondhand about the cultural differences between the likes of Lienid and the likes of the five central kingdoms.
Number Seven: “…If this entire episode was a performance for Bitterblue, then they might as well also pretend Po was in no position to see her with her clothes off.” (Pg 321)
Following Po’s failed attempt to kill King Leck, they’re on the run and have to leave Po behind because of his injuries. They come across a cabin at Po’s direction, and a waterfall that Po knows hides an underground cave. He probably knows the exact dimensions of it just standing on the shore of the pool, but of course, with Bitterblue present, they have to make a show of investigating the possibility of one existing.
Of course, Bitterblue’s not stupid. She probably knows Katsa and Po are together, just as she probably already knows that Po hasn’t been honest about his Grace. If anything, though, it makes the whole situation that much more funny.
Number Six: “Well. Giddon was still a horse’s ass.” (Pg 90)
I love this scene more than I have any right to. It makes me laugh every single time. Of course, just before this, Po and Katsa got to know each other as they grappled with each other in the training yard, and Katsa decided to trust him enough to bring him to his grandfather. Katsa got a little scraped up in the process (not nearly so much as poor Po, of course), and Giddon becomes furiously possessive when he sees the scratch.
When Po apologizes to Giddon, to Giddon, for insulting him for scratching her, Katsa gets furious, and for good reason. Giddon has no claim over her. But, of course, Po knows Giddon’s thoughts, and Katsa’s, and he only apologized so as to not make an enemy of Giddon. So when he silently mouths Forgive me to Katsa, sincerely, it makes sense, and Katsa understands to some degree, and can in fact forgive him. But Giddon’s still a jerk, so…
Number Five: “The mountain lion was a gift, really, coming as it did at the beginning of the first true snowstorm they encountered.” (Pg 340)
What I love about Katsa’s Grace is that it does not make her completely invincible. She can do practically anything: function on very little sleep for quite some time, beat insurmountable odds, build a fire even in the rain. And she beats the mountain lion. But only just. After the fight’s over, she considers her dead opponent and realizes just how lucky she was, even with her Grace, to have bested the mountain lion. And it’s the most injured Katsa has been since the beginning of the book, probably the most injured she’s been in her entire life.
Number Four: “It would change me to be your wife.” (Pg 233)
Unconventional relationships are kind of Cashore’s specialty. Katsa is terrified of marriage, and rightly so; she’s just untangled herself from the king’s control and to marry someone would be to transfer that control to them instead of keeping it for herself. I actually wrote my last big college paper on Katsa, so you could consider me as something of an expert 😉
She knows Po, is surprised to find that she loves him. But as she so poignantly says a little later, “And no matter how much freedom Po gave her, she would always know that it was a gift. Her freedom would not be her own; it would be Po’s to give or to withhold. That he never would withhold it made no difference. If it did not come from her, it was not really hers.” (Pg 237) I love that Katsa’s arc was not to learn to be okay with the idea of marriage, that it was instead really just a matter of inviting Po to share her space rather than to force the two of them to stay there together indefinitely.
Number Three: “[Po] was furious; she saw this, and she thought he was going to strike the man who had spoken; and for a panicky moment she didn’t know whether to stop him or help him.” (Pg 214)
Po can be best described as a solid, light-hearted, voluble guy who is freer with his emotions than we readers generally get to see. He has his moods, certainly, but he’s never the type to lose his temper. Which is why it’s so weird, while staying at that Sunderan inn on their way to Monsea, a group of merchants say something that makes him lose his cool. Katsa very nearly set herself on the merchants after they made a joke about the young innkeeper’s daughter–a very Katsa-like thing to do–but when they insult Katsa herself, Po gets furious on her behalf and very nearly punches them–a very un-Po-like thing to do.
That Katsa ultimately goes against her own desires to stop him shows she understands him better than she understands most people, and the whole encounter gives them some common ground. It erases any perception that Po is too good for her, that he is not above some amount of savagery.
Number Two: “Are you planning to throttle a moose with your bare hands, then?” (Pg 181)
Considering this is still pretty early on in their travels, it’s unsurprising that Po doesn’t know the full extent of Katsa’s capabilities. I honestly just love that line, and also, to a lesser degree, Katsa’s nonchalance as she says she’s got a knife tucked in her boot, as if anyone should be able to bring in dinner with nothing more than a knife.
But in the following conversation that takes place, when Katsa brings back a rabbit, already skinned and ready for cooking, Po jests that he’s going to be quite useless on their journey. It’s not that he’s not capable of making his own fire or killing his own dinner, just that Katsa is so much better at it. It’s cute, and ends with his insistence that she see the better side of her nature, that she remembers that she was the one who started the Council and she’s responsible for all the kind acts they have done throughout the kingdoms. That she’s not so brutish as she believes.
Number One: “Her first thought when she entered the throne room was to wish she’d brought a knife after all.” (Pg 165)
This whole chapter is just killer. Randa’s quite good at keeping Katsa on a leash, using her fear of herself to tie her loyalty to him. Ultimately, it’s not the two hundred men he’s crammed into his throne room that presents a threat to Katsa. It’s his words, and Katsa’s anger. And she shows him that, ultimately, it’s not even his words that have power over her. She reclaims her power, tells him exactly what would happen if he set his soldiers against her. It’s just a powerful moment, and an important beginning to her character arc.
And there’s the list! I was worried that, because I’ve always preferred Fire and Bitterblue over Graceling, I wouldn’t have enough favorite moments to make a list, but nope. I still ended up with like fifteen, and figuring out which ones to scratch off the list was almost impossible. It’s going to be even harder for Bitterblue, because there’s so, so many good moments in Bitterblue, but keep an eye out for that post, because I’m going to do it anyway.