Title: Graceling
Author: Kristin Cashore
ISBN: 9780152063962
Pages: 469 pages
Publisher/Date: Harcourt, Inc., c2008.

Katsa hadn’t known what her Grace was. Some Graces took longer than others to surface. But even if she had known, she wouldn’t have cared to discuss it with this cousin. She’d scowled at the man and turned away. But then his hand had slid toward her leg, and her hand had flown out and smashed him in the face. So hard and so fast that she’d pushed the bones of his nose into his brain.
Ladies in the court had screamed; one had fainted. When they’d lifted him from the pool of blood on the floor and he’d turned out to be dead, the court had grown silent, backed away. Frightened eyes–not just those of the ladies now, but those of the soldiers, the sworded underlords–all directed at her. It was fine to eat the meals of the king’s chef, who was Graced with cooking, or send their horses to the king’s Graced horse doctor. But a girl Graced with killing? This one was not safe. (9)

Even though she’s the king’s niece, Katsa has been made into the king’s muscle due to her ability to inact pain on people. Whoever disobeys his tyrannical rules must face torture at Katsa’s hands. Katsa hates doing it, but doesn’t rebel against the king until she encounters a Graced prince in search of his kidnapped grandfather. As the two set off to find out who kidnapped him, they both realize that there is more than people realize regarding their Graces.

I fell in love with this book, to the extent that before I’d even finished it I was recommending it to patrons. Consequently, I have to write this review before the book is due, because I won’t be able to renew it. If you liked Hunger Games, you’ll like Graceling. The espionage, intrigue, and mystery are palpable from the first page, and continue throughout. The twists and turns are exciting, and it’s a delight to discover the true nature of both Po (the prince) and Katsa’s Graces. Katsa and Po both have things that they are good at, but they also both have to overcome their imperfections and closely guarded secrets. Perfect for discussion, it begs the question what would you want your Grace to be, or what kind of Grace do you have already.

I think one of the more interesting aspects about Katsa and Po are their views on marriage. They both recognize that their views are different from what’s expected of them, but they aren’t willing to change them for society’s sake. So many female characters end up accepting their fate of falling in love and marrying someone, and it’s refreshing when Katsa is placed in that position that she fights against those feelings so strongly in order to maintain her independence. I have to just say thank you for portraying a strong female character who doesn’t give up her beliefs against marriage and children for the sake of possible romantic readers.

“Whom will you marry?”
He shrugged. “I hadn’t pictured myself marrying anyone.”
She moved to his side by the fire and sliced the other drumstick for herself. She went back and sat down. “Aren’t you concerned about your castle and your land? About producing heirs?”
He shrugged again. “Not enough to attach me to a person I don’t wish to be attached to. I’m content enough on my own.”
“And what of you Katsa?” […]
“Raffin and I talked once about marrying,” she said. “For he’s not wild about the idea of marrying some noblewoman who thinks only of being rich or being queen. And of course, he must marry someone, he has no choice in the matter. And to marry me would be an easy solution. We get along, I wouldn’t try to keep him from his experiments. He wouldn’t expect me to entertain guests, he wouldn’t keep me from the Council. […]
In the end,” she said, “it was out of the question. We laughed about it, for I couldn’t even begin to consider it seriously. I wouldn’t ever consent to be queen. And Raffin will require children, which I’d also never consent to. And I won’t be so tied to another person. Not even Raffin. […]
I’ve never disliked the children I’ve met. I’ve just never wanted them. I haven’t wanted to mother them. I can’t explain it.” (194-196)

It helps that Kristin Cashore has got some major star power support behind her debut novel.
On the back cover, Tamora Pierce writes “Here’s a WOW of a book! Seeing half-wild Katsa learn humanity as she battles soldiers, storms, and her own obsessive nature–I HAD to know how it ended!”
Melissa Marr describes it as “Katsa and Po are wonderful: They make me want to cheer. Due to a strong heroine, a supportive hero, political intrigue, and action throughout, this is a book I’ll share with my daughter.
And Catherine Murdock describes it as “A brilliant, unforgettable story that I inhaled in one sitting. For a first novel, for any novel, Graceling is extraordinary.”

A prequel “Fire” was released last year, and the sequel “Bitterblue” is coming out later this year. I think any high action fantasy fans would enjoy it, but there are some very light references to two people becoming lovers, nothing too graphic but it still recommends itself to older middle school students.