Graceling by Kristen Cashore
Reading Level: Young Adult
Release date: September 7, 2009
Number of Pages: 480
Graceling takes readers inside the world of Katsa, a warrior-girl in her late teens with one blue eye and one green eye. This gives her haunting beauty, but also marks her as a Graceling. Gracelings are beings with special talents—swimming, storytelling, dancing. Katsa's Grace is considered more useful: her ability to fight (and kill, if she wanted to) is unequaled in the seven kingdoms. Forced to act as a henchman for a manipulative king, Katsa channels her guilt by forming a secret council of like-minded citizens who carry out secret missions to promote justice over cruelty and abuses of power.
Combining elements of fantasy and romance, Cashore skillfully portrays the confusion, discovery, and angst that smart, strong-willed girls experience as they creep toward adulthood. Katsa wrestles with questions of freedom, truth, and knowing when to rely on a friend for help. This is no small task for an angry girl who had eschewed friendships (with the exception of one cousin that she trusts) for her more ready skills of self-reliance, hunting, and fighting. Katsa also comes to know the real power of her Grace and the nature of Graces in general: they are not always what they appear to be.
I'd had GRACELING sitting on my bookshelf forever. It wasn't that I didn't want to read it, it's just that I hadn't been in the mood to read a book set in the past. Like with Jodie Piccoults, I have to be in the perfect mood to read them or else I cannot fully enjoy them. It's the same for historical fiction. I had just read OF MICE AND MEN and THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, so I felt like reading something magical. It went above and beyond perfection. GRACELING's characters are strong, be they the one-eyed graced King Leck, who personifies cruelty, or the fierce heroine, Katsa, both lovely and deadly. I adored the romance that played out between Katsa and charming Prince Po, especially their utter loyalty to one another. I'm getting sick of paranormal love triangles, in all their "said vamp is hot, but said wizard is vulnerable" glory, so the way that Po and Katsa gave themselves completely to the other was truly refreshing. But don't let the lack of a love triangle fool you into believing GRACELING doesn't host some steamy moments itself. Trust me, it does not lack in the steam department. Cashore has graced us with a true masterpiece, full of elegance and fire. It is a must read by any standards, and it will satisfy both boys and girls from ages 13 up.