His "review" (if I dare call this piece that would make Dave Itzkoff blush a review) of Kristen Cashore's Graceling frankly is a travesty. Beginning with what appears to be a staple of Pat's reviews, a comparison to contemporary internet darling SF/F authors, it devolves quite a bit. Let's look at the opening paragraph:
I made a strange discovery when I was generating the Amazon links for this book. Throughout the novel, I kept saying that everything I was reading was definitely YA, yet my Gollancz ARC claimed that Kristin Cashore's Graceling would be perfect for fans of Patrick Rothfuss. Plodding on, I kept looking for a reason why they would make that claim. Interestingly enough, once I was done with the book I realized that it was marketed as a YA title in North America. Which, I believe, makes a lot of sense. I'm aware that there are a lot of differences between the British and the North American markets, yet it feels a bit weird that Gollancz is marketing Graceling as a work akin to those of authors such as Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch. Because it lacks the depth, the realism, and the grittiness to make it so.First off, Pat begins not with setting up a discussion of the book itself, but rather with a comparison between his perception of "Young Adult" literature and that of Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind. While there is a time and a place for comparing authors, this certainly is not the one, especially when he is using publicity blurbs as the basis for such comparisons. Not everyone is going to have access to those, so I am left wondering why he bothers focusing on that. From there, he seizes upon the marketing of the book as YA to claim how it is different from yet more publicist-driven comparisons to newer fantasy authors such as Abercrombie and Lynch. So...what the fuck is this review about? The book, or marketing comparisons? A reader might be pardoned for his or her eyes glazing over and wondering if the book might be worth considering.
The following paragraphs do not improve upon the opener's poor start. If anything, the rhetoric becomes rather overblown and at times, I could not help but wonder if Pat was writing a review of his preconceptions of what constitutes YA literature rather than discussing Cashore's book, as this is the only "discussion" of the book itself:
Katsa was born with an exceptional skill which makes her feared throughout the land -- the Grace of killing. Well nigh invincible, at a young age she becomes the king's enforcer. But Katsa is also a secret agent of the Council, a shadowy group of men and women who are the forces of good in the land. During a mission to rescue a kidnapped foreign monarch, Katsa stumbles upon a mysterious chain of events which seem to make no sense. Investigating further, she will uncover intrigues that will set her against her own king and send her on a quest to unearth the mystery of a one-eyed figure.Stylistically, Kristin Cashore's tale bears resemblance to Joe Abercrombie's The First Law. Character-driven plot with minimalist worldbuilding pretty much describe Graceling in a nutshell. Unlike Abercrombie, however, Cashore's debut is indubitably YA in style and tone.The concept of Graces appeared interesting at the beginning, and the author makes a good job of describing the whole process. Alas, the whole thing loses some of its luster when we discover that one can be born with the Grace of sewing, jumping high, or similar talents. As I mentioned, the worldbuilding doesn't intrude on the story and more or less remains in the background. Which is too bad, because at times Cashore's prose can be evocative, and it would have been interesting to discover more about the world she created, as well as the various societies populating it.
But the real "beauty" of this review begins with the "Cashore's debut is indubitably YA in style and tone" line. Leaving aside the incredibly strong claim to authority (amusing, considering Pat's refusal to provide any sort of tangible evidence to support his claims), it is Pat's insinuation that YA literature is intrinsically inferior to "gritty" novels such as his favorite duo of Lynch and Abercrombie (as if he hadn't beaten that comparison horse to death in previous reviews of his). But before discussing this at length, more precious quotes from that review:
Well, endemic to several of Pat's reviews, we find overly confident descriptors used to cover up fairly weak and unsupported claims. I have read dozens of YA-marketed books over the past couple of years and Pat's claims that the politicking makes little sense is baffling? Is not Cory Doctorow's Little Brother marketed as YA and does it not contain a plausible, cogent view of a post-9/11 society that could (have gone) go bad? What about Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea novels? This claim makes very little sense and could in fact be seen as being rather dismissive of the socio-political messages buried within several YA-marketed novels over the years.Endemic to YA books, the politicking makes little sense. Too simplistic to be realistic, it lacks depth and sometimes you just shake your head in wonder. Then again, when I was a young teenager, politics in a fantasy novel were probably the last thing I paid attention to.Typical to YA novels, the characterization are a bit clichéd. Everything is too black and white, with no room for shades of gray. What Kristin Cashore does well is create endearing characters, even though they are quite predictible. Still, she came up with an engaging bunch that makes for easy reading. Katsa, the main protagonist, is a cross between Drizzt Do'Urden, the Terminator, and Nynaeve al'Meara. There's a definite sense of "girl power" in this one, and the story is told in a very contemporary voice. Hence, though it seems to be aimed at a female teenage readership, it is a world away from similar works from the 80s by Mercedes Lackey, Andre Norton, or Marion Zimmer Bradley. This being a novel written by a female author for a young adult audience, you know that there will be a love story. Enter the extraordinary and secretive and handsome Prince Po, and there you have it. Though you see it coming from a mile away, this cheesy love story nearly killed the book for me.À la Salvatore, Cashore can write some thrilling battle scenes, and there are plenty of those in Graceling. Though evocative, the narrative can be juvenile at times, and the same can be said of the dialogues. Still, the author keeps the tale moving at a brisk pace, and other than the love story between Katsa and Po, Graceling is a quick read, especially if you prefer action over depth.
But it is typical of Pat, it seems, to aspire to an expertise that I doubt he has. Leaving aside my observation in the past that Pat rarely attempts to write insightful reviews that delve into the books at hand, nothing he has shown has demonstrated any real awareness of the field. He quotes publicity blurbs in place of developing an informed opinion regarding the field. His claims of "typical to YA novels" (as if this is almost solely the province of Young Adult literature and not something that a great many books spanning several genres have done) there being "clichéd" characterization is almost priceless. I guess someone will have to tell Margo Lanagan that her characters are somehow "clichéd," or perhaps D.M. Cornish might appreciate knowing that about Rossamünd's character.
Then comes the "black and white" commentary. Telling, rather than showing, leaving one to wonder if this is in fact true. How characters can be "endearing" but "predictable" without anything cited as evidence makes me wonder even more. But when Pat makes his whopper of a comparison (between an R.A. Salvatore character, the Terminator, and a Wheel of Time female character), I began then to wonder if he had gone batshit crazy with the unsupported comparisons and lazy substitution of unsubstantiated opinion for revealing citations. At this point, I still barely know anything about this book that might not be gleaned from reading either the back cover or from a publicity copy (if I had a publicity copy of said book). What the fuck is this book about, again?
Pat's "girl power" quip and the standard-issue female comparison point for him (after all, it really isn't a Pat review until he keeps comparing the work, unsupported with commentary of course, to other authors who may or may not be related at all in style, tone, plot, or characterization to the novel at hand) alone will likely draw the ire of many. It is rather telling that already some of the commenters at his site have lauded Pat for not being "politically correct" or "telling it like it is." However, I believe if one were to "tell it like it is," one might be tempted to note the general boorish cluelessness of such a comment. True, it is not surprising, considering Pat's past history with "chick lit" remarks. Still, with that and the snarky comment about the "you know there will be romance in it" made me wonder if there might be a touch of misogyny in Pat, considering how regular those types of comments are made when certain books are reviewed. Then again, I perhaps should withdraw that comment, since it would have as little evidence supporting it (OK, only a tad bit more) as Pat has for making said comments in several of his reviews of books written by female authors.
But á la...someone, I guess, Pat's review wimpers down with absolutely no explanation behind his comments, no support for his assertations, nothing to balance what appears at first (second, third?) glance to be bantam-cock posturing with nothing of substance behind it. All I know about the book at this point is that apparently it is set in a secondary-world, that there is some romance and battles to it, and that the main character seems to be an amalgam of disparate fictional characters. Perhaps the final paragraph to the review will provide some sort of closure:
In the end, Kristin Cashore's Graceling is a fast-paced and accessible read. The book should appeal to fans of writers such as Maggie Furey, Trudi Canavan, and Elaine Cunningham.The final verdict: 6.75/10
So...anyone have links to other reviews of this book so I can gain a better insight into the book itself, rather than into the reviewer's biases?