Reading level: Young Adult
Size: 480 pages
Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books
Release Date: October 1, 2008
Stand Alone or Series: 1st book in the Graceling series
Rating: 5/5 stars
I have had this on my shelf to read forever. I am not sure why it took me so long to read it. It was an absolutely stellar adventure fantasy with a dash of romance; an excellent world with an interesting premise. Highly recommended to those who love YA fantasy.
When Katsa was eight years old she killed a man with her bare hands, revealing her Grace. Some have Graces that let them cook well or run fast or sing…Katsa’s Grace is to kill. With her parents dead her uncle the King has been using her as his personal strong arm. Whenever the King thinks someone is out of the line the King sends Katsa to torture, threaten and kill. But Katsa is getting sick of doing the King’s dirty work. Then she meets Prince Po; Prince Po is Graced with Fighting and finally Katsa has someone who can challenge her in combat. As her and Prince Po become friends and compare notes on their separate kingdoms they realize that something is going seriously wrong in a neighboring kingdom and go on a mission to investigate and fix the problem.
This was a seriously good book. It has an excellent balance of interesting world-building, epic politics, fantastic action scenes, unforgettable characters, and a little romance. The world is very well laid out. The names of all the kings and kingdoms are a bit confusing initially but quickly you learn the layout and then things are much easier to make sense of. I love the idea of people having Graces, it is in an interesting type of magic system, and Cashore does an excellent job of explaining the Graces.
This book is very action packed. Katsa is a bit easy to rile, so she is constantly lashing out and fighting people. The fight scenes between her and Po are incredible. The plot was very well done, the story is so well woven together and takes some interesting twists and turns. The surprises are such that when you think back to the beginning on the story it makes perfect sense, but they are done in such a way that they are still surprising.
Katsa is an absolutely wonderful and engaging character. It was fun to watch her anger and hatred temper itself into something more mature as the story went on. I love that right from the get go she is intelligant and her own person, this is evidenced by the Council she starts to protect others in the Kingdom. Yet despite her intelligence she is somewhat emotionally stunted by the things the King has forced her to do. It was great to watch her overcome this.
Prince Po was another exceptional character. He adds a lightness to the story that balances Katsa’s violence and has this wonderful kind of zen thing going on despite his own secrets. Really he is the perfect counterpart to Katsa. I loved how they are friends before they get romantic; I always love it when the romance between the two characters is actually based on a solid and respectful relationship.
The other characters are just as endearing; they are all very well done. I am excited to see that the most recent book is about Bitterblue because she was definitely a side character I wanted to learn more about.
The story ends well and I think readers will be pleased. I can’t wait to read more books by Cashore. This is probably best for older young adults. There is a lot of violence, some torture, and one non-explicit sex scene.
Overall an absolutely excellent fantasy book. I loved the world, the idea of Graces, and the wonderfully engaging characters. The plot moved fast and had a lot of very well done twists and turns; it was full of adventure, intrigue, and action. The romance between Katsa and Po is very sweet and very well done; built on mutual respect and friendship. I highly recommend this to fantasy lovers. It reminds a bit of Tamora Pierce‘s books and Robin McKinely’s The Hero and the Crown, but grittier. Again highly recommended for fantasy fans young adult and older.