Author: Kristin Cashore
Publisher: Harcourt Books (Houghton Mifflin)
Genre: YA Fantasy
Katsa is a young girl who possesses a Grace she is not sure she wants: the power to kill and maim. Her uncle and king, Randa, uses her Grace for his own means and in essence treats her as a tool, forcing her to carry out his punishments on all who cross him. To counter her feelings of being trapped and helpless in this situation, Katsa forms a Council whose mission it is to help the victims of the seven kingdom's corruption. On one puzzling mission, saving the kidnapped father of the king of the Lienids, an island kingdom which does not take part in the cruelty and madness of the others, Katsa meets Po, a Lienid prince in search of his grandfather, Graced with fighting skills. Eventually, Katsa defies her uncle and breaks free of his hold on her, and she and Po set out to discover who had ordered the Lienid grandfather's kidnapping and to find an explanation for the strange events. Along the way, Katsa comes to terms with who she is and, with Po's help, finds out things about herself she had never known.
Graceling is really rich in detail and emotion. The plot is filled with twists and turns and there is never a dull moment - even when the characters are traveling for days on end, Kristin Cashore fills the pages with compelling dialogue and descriptions. The details of how they travel are so real and plentiful that at times I almost felt the harsh roads and freezing weather!
The characters are also very real in their emotions and in how they deal with and react to various situations. Katsa's problems of finding herself and dealing with her strengths are not limited to someone who has power- they are relevant to every teenage girl confused about who she is and what she can do. Po is just as real and has his own issues to deal with, which adds to the depth of the whole story.
The concept of magic, of the Graces, is so tied to the story that it is not secondary, but is essential to the plotline. I love how the characters' discoveries about their Graces parallel their discoveries about themselves and each other, how as they find out how their magic works, they also find out how human emotions work.
It was a little hard to write this review, because it was hard to think of the story objectively and analyze it critically - I got too emotionally involved in the story and realized I ran the risk of simply gushing about how much I loved it instead of explaining what I liked about it. So here, I'm going to gush a little! Once I got into the story, I couldn't put the book down. Katsa and Po both captured my heart, as did Bitterblue (princess of Monsea) later in the story. I just fell in love with these characters! The plot is also amazing, and I found myself breathless at times. I also figured things out one step before the characters sometimes, and I love when that happens - there are enough clues so that I could say "aha!" just before the characters do, but not too long before that. The relationship between Katsa and Po is just so beautiful... It's real and filled with ups and downs as each one grapples with different issues, and it's sweet and charming and full of depth.
I love love love this book!