Author: Kristin Cashore
Publisher: Harcourt, 2008
Call number: Y Cashore
I’ve read a lot of first novels lately, and it feels like despite the chaos and pessimism surrounding the publishing industry right now, there are a lot of first-time authors being published in YA. This is one of the better debuts I’ve read.
Katsa is a Graceling, one of a small number of people in the Seven Kingdoms born with the ability to excel at a special skill, called their Grace. Gracelings are marked by their eyes — Katsa has one blue and one green — and the fear that surrounds them severely limits their choices. Katsa, Graced with killing, is forced to become the assassin/enforcer for her uncle, King of the Middluns, torturing and killing those who displease him. This life of violence is all she knows, though she tries to atone by running a secret Council that works to bring justice to the kingdoms. On a mission to rescue the kidnapped grandfather of a royal family, Katsa runs into a man who unexpectedly matches her blow for blow in a fight. When he turns up again in her kingdom, she learns that he is a prince, the grandson of the man she rescued, and a Graceling as well. Prince Po is Graced with fighting, and he and Katsa quickly develop mutual respect and affection for each other. Together they travel to an isolated kingdom to find out the truth about the kidnapping of Po’s grandfather, and along the way, Po challenges the assumptions Katsa has made about herself and her Grace.
I can’t think of a lot of fantasy novels that mix such a kick-butt heroine with a romance that actually makes sense for the character. (I think Tamora Pierce’s Tricker’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen is another example.) Katsa is afraid of her Grace and her own anger. She doesn’t know how to make friends, much less be in love, without losing herself, and she struggles hard against her emotions. The only time she feels at peace, through much of the book, is when she’s fighting, because only then does she feel like herself. She’s determined never to marry, because she believes marrying can only come at the cost of her own independence, and I love how that never changes, though she eventually admits her feelings for Po. Po allows Katsa to be herself, and vice versa.
It’s the strength of Cashore’s characterizations of the two leads that really make this book excellent, though the plot elements — the kidnapping, the evil king Graced with a horrible power, the secret about Po’s Grace, the ending — are compelling in their own right. Cashore also writes some excellent fight sequences, which is important in a book with two main characters that are awesome at fighting. Katsa’s and Po’s practice battles, where they try to wipe the floor with each other, are a lot of fun to read. Finally, there is a good mix of great witty banter between Katsa and Po (Katsa especially can be quite funny) and a lot of heartfelt and sometimes heartbreaking moments that give the characters and story depth without weighing it down..
Overall, I think this fantasy has everything going for it. I mentioned readers of Tamora Pierce liking this book above, but I also think readers who like Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series would enjoy this book for the intricate political intrigue, complex characters, and the romance between two equally powerful people.
Check out Kristin Cashore’s blog for news and information on her current projects!
*Want to see your own book reviews published on this blog? Want to win prizes for writing book reviews? Go here to see how!