Graceling (2008) by Kristin Cashore is, in many ways, the fantasy novel I have been hoping to stumble upon all summer.
In the world of Graceling certain people are graced in their youth with a powerful ability. Some might call these Gremacelings lucky, blessed even. But Katsa knows that her own devastating Grace of killing is more burden than blessing. Forced to do the bidding of her uncle, King of the Middluns, Katsa is dispatched to dole out tangible examples of the King's disfavor.
Katsa lives her life apart from the rest of the court in her uncle's castle, avoided both because of her fearsome Grace and her startling eyes--one blue and one green--that mark her as a Graceling. Though far from content, Katsa has reconciled herself to this life.
At least until she meets another Graceling, a prince called Po. Skilled in the art of combat, Po is the first worthy opponent Katsa has encountered. The prince might also be the first friend Katsa has made since her Grace first revealed itself.
Together, the two embark on an adventure the likes of which neither can imagine in search of a truth almost too diabolical to believe.
Katsa is a strong and complex character that readers are sure to adore and admire. She is also headstrong, almost to the point of absurdity. Her opinions on marriage and children are central to the plot and indeed to Katsa's identity. Still, by the end of Graceling I couldn't help but wonder, if two people love each other and know they want to be together, what is the harm in being married? Katsa says repeatedly that she won't compromise her freedom by marrying anyone which is a very difficult but admirable position to take. And yet. It seems to me that loving someone at all is a compromise whether you marry them or not.
The plot itself is no less compelling. Though I was sorry to see so little of Giddon (I took an instant liking to him as a character), it was a joy to read about Katsa and Po's blossoming relationship and to see Katsa come to terms with her Grace and the responsibility that comes with it. Cashore's villain is stunningly diabolical and cunning--so much so that I have to admit the ending did feel anti-climactic.
Graceling is everything a reader can hope for in a fantasy. Cashore's writing and her world building are utterly unique--the only disappointment is that I didn't think of it myself. The book is filled with action, fights, journeys, and even some romance. The setting, like the characters, are straightforward and evocative. Lienid particularly jumped off the page with Cashore's descriptions.