My feelings towards Katsa are mixed. I love her strength, which is manifested both physically and mentally. She is well-versed in the fighting arts, she's confident in her physical abilities and she is a survivor. She's also a determined character who fights for what she wants, and unlike so many other YA protagonists, she doesn't become a doormat once she falls in love. Additionally, I appreciated her desire not to have children because it's a rarity among female characters in nearly all media. There is still a real stigma against women who don't want to be mothers in our society and it's important for girls to get the message that wanting children is a choice not a requirement.
Where Katsa lost me was with her views on marriage, not that she didn't want to get married, but her rationale behind it, which was basically that marriage robs women of their independence. This view would have been more understandable if marriage in the book was shown to be nothing more than a way to oppress women and take away freedoms they had when they were unmarried, however, this was not the case. There was one marriage that was shown in a negative light and the situation wasn't even known to Katsa when she formed her opinion. Also, the romantic storyline itself didn't support Katsa's unwavering beliefs about marriage.
Although my feelings about Katsa were middling, I really did like her love interest, Po. He is the antithesis of the abusive, brooding male trope. He knows what he wants and he goes for it. He's open and honest, although not unrealistically so. He never tries to control Katsa and he loves and supports her unconditionally but this love doesn't cause him to forsake all others. If I have any complaints about him at all it's that he was a little too perfect in his role as a love interest. I would have liked it more if he were less of a push over when it came to Katsa's demands about the terms of their relationship.
Aside from the uneven pacing, the biggest problem I had with Graceling was the world-building, which I thought was entirely too shallow. With the exception of Lienid, the other kingdoms didn't seem to be very distinguishable from each other in terms of culture, and the social structure was underdeveloped. Lienid was far better explored and distinguishable from the other kingdoms, however, I was still left with a lot of questions about the specific physical characteristics that made them unique. Katsa indicates that the Lienid people look different from people of the other kingdoms but it's unclear how. The only physical traits mentioned are their dark hair and gray eyes but these are also found in the other five kingdoms according to Katsa. There have to be some differences (skin color, eye shape, hair texture, etc.) because Katsa knew Bitterblue was part Lienid by looking at her but Cashore never comes out and says it, which led to some difficulty in picturing the characters.
The magic system was also a little too haphazard for me. I like rules when it comes to magic and the Graces really don't have any in terms of what powers a person has and who receives them. Katsa's power was almost limitless and there were no real consequences to balance out her power. In the beginning people feared and hated her because of her Grace, and she was also used as a tool, but these consequences were minor compared to the power she had and they were easily remedied.
Overall, I enjoyed Graceling but my enjoyment was as uneven as the pacing. I'm still debating whether or not I should read the sequels.