Published October 1, 2008 by Harcourt Children's Books
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. - Goodreads
I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE this book. Is that enough of a review? No? Ok, I guess I will have to tell you why then. I am first and foremost, a fantasy lover. It has, and probably always will be my favorite genre. Kristin Cashore takes all the elements that one would find in an epic fantasy tale, and craft it into a stunningly well-written young adult novel. The world-building is simplified yet satisfying. It even includes a map at the beginning (which I absolutely adore!). The well-developed characters are not overwhelming in number, a common occurrence in adult fantasy. I think this is a great title for someone to pick up if they are perhaps transition from young adult to fantasy or vice versa.
In a land where being a Graceling is feared and avoided, there are non more formidable than Katsa. Her grace is the ability to kill with ease. Her name and the stories of the acts she was forced to commit on behalf of her king (and uncle) have reached all Seven Kingdoms. Her tell-tale one blue, one green eye is the last thing anyone wants to see on their doorstep. Katsa didn't choose this life. She doesn't want to commit these despicable acts just because she can. Doing something good with her Grace was the only way to combat the feelings of hatred for what she is welling up inside of her. Katsa creates The Council where she, basically, punishes evil men of the kingdoms and rights the wrongs. A medieval, female, Batman if you will. So on one of these missiones, Katsa meets another Graceling fighter, the Lienid prince, Po. She makes quick work of him with her ninja skills, and succinctly drops him to the ground to carry on her missive.
But Po is not done with Katsa. Of course, there has got to be a bit of romance going on in this book. And, as you might be able to surmise, it is not a damsel in distress, hero on horseback type romance. Katsa and Po find their connection through their unique yet frightening graces. Their long and treacherous journey across the Seven Kingdoms on the quest to find out the truth behind a kidnapping, bring them together in a way that is deep and soulful. Even though this book has some dark themes and events, it is not without its humor. The following is a humorous passage about Katsa trying to hide her true feelings from Po:
"She glanced up at him, and in that moment he pulled his wet shirt over his head. She forced her mind blank. Blank as a new sheet of paper, blank as a starless sky. He came to the fire and crouched before it. He rubbed the water from his bare arms and flicked it into the flames. She stared at the goose and sliced his drumstick carefully and thought of the blankest expression on the blankest face she could possibly imagine." - pg 192The relationship between Katsa and Po is so wonderful. It isn't the typical immediate affection or constant musings that is prevalent in other books, it is a romance built on a true connection and likeness of mind and convictions. Plus Po is such a charmer I think he's going to be my new book boyfriend.
Technically, Graceling is a standalone novel, but there is a companion book out there that has one main character in common with the characters in Graceling. And while, I'm disappointed it isn't going to continue the story of Katsa and Po, I did read the prologue and I cannot wait to pick up a copy of Fire.