I sincerely hope that all of you, dear readers, know who Katniss Everdeen is. If you don’t, how’s that rock you’re living under? Cozy? In case you are a pop culture innocent and don’t know who she is, she’s the super independent, fascist-regime-destroying badass hero of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, immortalized on film by the bff of my dreams, Jennifer Lawrence. I’m actually not even going to bother explaining the premise because seriously? Go check the books out from the library and read them in two days, or rent the movies and get caught up in four hours. Who you may not know, however, is her adversary in this imaginary battle, Katsa. Katsa is the super independent royal-assasin-turned-hero-turned-women’s-combat teacher in Kristin Cashore’s SUPER FREAKING AWESOME Graceling.
OK, so in terms of actually forcing Katniss and Katsa into an arena to battle to the death, this is a SUPER unfair fight. There’s absolutely no way Katniss could win, because plucky as she is with those arrows and resourceful as she is when it comes down to finding trees to sleep in, Katsa is a supernatural being. Now, I’m about to get hella spoilery in a minute, so if you haven’t read Graceling and you want to, you might want to not read any further.
In the world of Graceling (and a magical world it is), sometimes there are people born with graces. A grace can be anything from dancing to being able to breathe under water to whatever the hell. These people are called gracelings. Katsa is a graceling, and her grace is killing. She is, essentially, the ultimate magical badass. Over the course of Graceling she not only kills countless people, but also crosses a monstrous mountain range with an adolescent girl on her back, fights a mountain lion (and wins!), and totally fucking owns the most terrifying graceling of all time, King Leck. Leck’s grace is that he is able to make people believe everything he says. Not in a manipulative persuasion way; simply everything he says, everyone’s brains automatically believe to be true. This is already pretty scary, but he’s a total sociopath, so he’s one of the scariest villains of all time. I don’t want to totally ruin the book for anyone who hasn’t read it and wants to, but let’s just say she finds a rather…piercing way to deal with him. I’ve read a lot of badass shit in my 31 years of life, but Katsa is one of the baddest assiest of all time.
So, no, it’s not really very fair to match her against Katniss. Katniss is amazing, and considering she doesn’t have any super powers to help her, I think she’d hold her own for a bit, but she really wouldn’t have a chance. (Though, I’d love to see them in a marksmanship contest! Katsa can throw daggers through mouths open in the middle of the sentence, Katniss can shoot squirrels through the eye. THINK ABOUT IT). That’s not really why I wanted to match them against each other. I also wanted to talk about their feminist identities, since so many people equate a strong female lead with a feminist lead, which isn’t necessarily the case. Also, their names are really similar so naturally they have to be in a death match.
I will preface this by saying that I’m not a feminist scholar, but I do consider myself a feminist, so I’m going to go ahead and use some hella non-academic terms as I dive into this shit. OK. So Katniss is super fierce and is basically the breadwinner of her family. There’s not a whole lot of gender normyness to her – who’s got time for that shit when you have squirrels to shoot for your family? But when it comes down to it, does she actually do anything that could be considered feminist? I don’t think so. She’s super strong and awesome as hell, but combating societal misogyny isn’t really her thing. (Is it? I haven’t read the books in a while. If you have read them more recently and have a counter to this, please, counter away!). I don’t think this is a problem with her as a character, at all, (though maybe a missed opportunity?), but. BUT. There is the whole love triangle thing. For all her strength and independence, an inordinate amount of focus ends up being on WHICH BOY WILL SHE CHOOOOOOSEEEE. And I mean, I think she deserves love. I think everyone deserves love, especially someone as crucial as Katniss. I just don’t like a fierce hero’s journey being dominated by a “which boy will she choose?” love triangle plot. It diminishes her importance as a god damn revolutionary.
Then there’s Katsa. Katsa has a truly fascinating arc. When we first meet her, she’s a thug. Anyone with a useful grace is used by the kingdom, so the moment Katsa’s grace became apparent she was property of the king. This causes her a lot of angst. A LOT. Let’s just say Katsa’s soul is one big moral quagmire of confusion and self-loathing. This is where her super balanced and hot romance comes in. Po is a prince from a neighboring kingdom whose grace of fighting is a pretty great compliment to Katsa’s killing grace. They meet, they kick each other’s asses, they partner up for a mission, and eventually their sparring turns to making out, as it does. However, she resists. A lot. Why? Because she is terrified of surrendering herself to another person, of losing her independence, strength, and self-reliance. So much so, that she refuses to marry him in the end; instead, they decide to carry on being unwed partners for as long as they care to be (FOREVER, DUH), with each of them leading lives independent of each other as well. How freaking awesome is that in a teen book? Another cool thing? Through their partnership Katsa learns the true nature of her grace, and through this self-understanding she is able to free herself from her enslavement to her asshole uncle the king and set out on her own. What does she do with her newfound independence? She sets up a school to teach women how to fight and defend themselves. So, does Katsa have feminist chops? HELL TO THE YES.
In conclusion, if you want to skip about eight hundred words: Katsa wins this one.