I’ve read Graceling before, and I wasn’t quite sure what to think of it then. The anti-marriage plot and Katsa’s rejections of femininity didn’t sit well with me then; not because I’m that vociferously pro-marriage or that insistent on anyone being feminine, but I think I was looking for someone more like Celaena back then. Someone who could fight and survive and still be a woman, and not view feminine pursuits or interests as weak. Katsa isn’t that at all: she’s a woman who has been mostly forced to act as a thug, who is only beginning to learn that she can take control of her own life, and that has included being paraded for the marriage market and forced to pretty herself up, despite her lack of interest in both.
The issues of marriage and contraception… Well, to an extent they still feel a little bit incongruous to me, but I’m also impressed that they’re included in a YA book. It’s positive about sex and Katsa’s right to do what she wants with her own body, positive about finding a compromise that works for both you and your partner. And in a world where ineffective abstinence is about all that’s taught in schools, there’s definitely no harm in YA drawing attention to the existence of contraception, and it’s a valid part of the worldbuilding that it’s something which Katsa is aware of and can use.
I think I enjoyed it more this time because I appreciated those things more, and I knew they were coming. It left me more time to focus on other aspects like the worldbuilding. I’m still not sure about some of the place names — Middluns as the name of a kingdom? Really? But I did like other things like the whole idea of Graces, the idea of how kings and rulers would use that, how it would effect families. The exploration of how women were expected to rely on their male family members for protection, and yet that protection often failed them. I liked that Graces aren’t straightforward; they can evolve and change, they can surprise you, because all the time you thought you were Graced to do [x] and it turns out just to be a side effect of [y].
I’m not sure how I felt about Po’s Grace compensating for the injury. It’s represented as something different, not a straightforward replacement, though, so I think it steers clear of handwaving the disability away — and it’s definitely hinted at ahead of time.
The mindreading and mind control Graces creep me out as much as they do Katsa. They’re pretty closely aligned in my mind; it’s interesting how Po’s Grace is explored, but how the antagonist’s Grace is only ever condemned. It’s not as if people can help their Graces, only what they do with them. It’d be interesting to see someone with a similar Grace who struggles not to misuse it.