Having been meditating on Graceling for a few weeks, I have a few offers of a literary structural nature about the book, which was generally very good. I have a post on the alchemical symbolism of Graceling coming down the pipeline at some point, whenever I get around to actually finishing it.
This time, though, I want to focus on the characters of Katsa and Bitterblue from the book. Katsa is our protagonist, a young girl with a Grace of killing. Bitterblue is the young girl (perhaps twelve years old) who is on the run from her tyrant father. I think they are typologically connected to one another.
Over the course of the book, we discover that Katsa’s killing Grace was revealed at a young age, when an uncle of hers got a bit too interested in touching her. She hit him on the face, and accidentally drove his nose into his brain and killed him. She’s haunted by this fact. Now, we have themes of incest and a girl defending herself from such unwanted advances, even to the point of death.
Okay. Now, Katsa and Po find Princess Bitterblue in the woods, hiding from her father after her mother has been killed. Po is left behind because he is wounded; Katsa and Bitterblue go on alone through Grella’s Pass. Along the way Katsa and Po find out why King Leck is so desperate to get ahold of Bitterblue. “The King wants me,” she tells them (292). Her father has taken a “particular interest in me,” but “I can’t say what he wants me for, exactly. He’s always been . . . fond of the company of girls.” Her father said “he wanted to start spending time with me alone,” (293). And then, one day, “the girl who brought our food had cuts on her face, three lines on each cheek, bleeding freely. And other injuries, too, that we couldn’t see. She wasn’t walking well. When we asked her what happened, she said she couldn’t remember. She was a girl my age,” (295).
Right, so the incest theme is strongly implied again in Bitterblue’s own story, a recapitulation of Katsa’s own sorry tale. Like Katsa, Bitterblue escapes the unnatural desires of her father, the abusing relative recapitulating Katsa’s uncle. When they are confronted by King Leck, Katsa is put off by “the way he looked at Bitterblue, with something in his gaze Katsa had seen before but couldn’t quite place,” (415). Leck says, “I’ll enjoy my daughter’s company” at a “later” time. This thing in his gaze that Katsa can’t quite place is, of course, the way her uncle had looked at her.
And, making the connection between the characters complete, Katsa finally kills King Leck with a head wound, just as she killed her uncle.