Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.
When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.
She never expects to become Po’s friend.
She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.
With elegant, evocative prose and a cast of unforgettable characters, debut author Kristin Cashore creates a mesmerizing world, a death-defying adventure, and a heart-racing romance that will consume you, hold you captive, and leave you wanting more.
When you are as much of a fan of fantasy as I am you end up reading about a lot of awesome adventures, surreal magic, fantastical worlds, and thrilling battles, you also unfortunately read a lot of sexist crap. Women can do this, they can’t do that. Women either marry or go into the convent or become a shrew. Women can’t fight, can’t defend themselves, can’t learn certain trades, can’t rule, can’t lead, can’t strategize, can’t go anywhere alone, or do anything without men’s approval. It. Gets. Grating. This coming from someone who loves fantasy but who also gets a little sick of being told what her gender can and can’t do all the time.
Then comes Graceling. What am awesome, surreal, fantastical, and thrilling breath of fresh air! Graceling is set in a medieval era Europeanish world called The Seven Kingdoms. There are wonderfully complex politics at play and fiendish plots afoot and then we get to the people. Certain people within the various kingdoms are called Gracelings, these people have been Graced with a specific talent. Our main character, Katsa, learns at the tender age of eight that she has been Graced with the talent of killing people when she accidentally kills her step cousin who was making unwanted advances.
She knew her nature. She would recognize it if she came face-to-face with it. It would be a blue-eyed green-eyed monster, wolflike and snarling. A vicious beast that struck out at friends in uncontrollable anger, a killer that offered itself as a vessel of the king’s fury.
But then it was a strange monster, for beneath its exterior it was frightened and sickened by its own violence. It chastised itself for its savagery. And sometimes it had no heart for violence and rebelled against it utterly.
A monster that refused, sometimes, to behave like a monster. When a monster stopped behaving like a monster , did it stop being a monster? Did it become something else?
Perhaps she wouldn’t recognize her own nature after all.”
She is then trained by her uncle the King and instead of being given a position of prominence in the kingdom for being Graced she is treated more as a lap dog that gets sent to do the dirty work. This all changes when she meets Po, a prince who has been Graced with combat skills. Plots are uncovered, alliances are threatened, politics come into play and soon Katsa finds herself involved in a quest to save a kidnapped child. Her special Grace is needed desperately, but is it in the way she expects?
I loved this book. Carried all the way through was this fantastic feminist message that shined through Katsa. She was tough and spirited though granted she was a little wild at the beginning, but that’s to be expected after being treated like an animal by her uncle’s court. She was feared and mistreated more for her Grace than her gender, which was refreshing. While she was strong she also had true heart that made her endearing and human. The romance also was wonderful to read about. It was built up slowly and believably and remained respectful of them both, so rare in YA romance. It was a welcome addition to the story.
The world she was in was amazing as well, and not just because of the fascinating concept of Gracelings or the complex politics of the Seven Kingdoms. Marriage was a choice for women, not a need. Men were permitted the luxury of feeling and even of crying when all was lost. Gender conformity was not an over-driving need as it is traditionally in fantasy and that was true straight to the last and I’m glad the author made that tough call. That is not to say that all was roses. There were still unwanted sexual advances and comments made about various young women, there were still attempts at forced/arranged marriages, and there were still kingdoms that chose not to educate or empower their women or teach them how to protect themselves. But for a fantasy book, a genre famous for brutally enforcing gender roles, this book was amazingly progressive. It made Graceling a wonderful and magical rare breed of truly empowering fantasy centered around a truly powerful woman. I loved it and look forward to reading the other books set in this magical world.