gracelingIn a world where people born with an exceptional skill, known as a Grace, are both feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises:the Grace of killing.

As a Graced killer who has been able to kill a man with her bare hands from the age of eight, she’s forced to work as the king’s thug.  Feared by the court and shunned by those her own age, the darkness of her Grace casts a heavy shadow over Katsa’s life.

Yet Katsa remains defiant, and when the King of Liend’s father is kidnapped she investigates, and stumbles across a mystery.  Who would want to kidnap the old man, and why?  And who was the extraordinary Graced man whose fighting abilities rivalled her own?

The only thing Katsa is sure of is that she no longer wants to kill.  The intrigue surronding the kidnapping offers her a way out – and little does she realise, when she takes it, that something insidious and dark lurks behind the mystery, something spreading form the shadowy figure of a one eyed king…

Graceling is the debut novel by Kristin Cashore, and  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  Katsa is an intriguing character; because people have been afraid of her for her entire life, she has few friends, and a lack of understanding of  people.  As she investigates the kidnapping and begins to defy her uncle, Katsa becomes more open to people and she is better able to relate to them.

Katsa’s relationship with her uncle was problematic for me.  Cashore did not show me how he was able to control Katsa, to force her to kill and torture on his word, I am told this instead.  As Katsa defies her uncle, she thinks this is the hardest thing she has done, and how close she was to turning back, but I don’t feel this with her.  I know it only because I was told, and this lessens the power of the scene.

Katsa’s new-found independence and sense of self is thrown when she realises her attraction to Po and his to her.  This romance is one of the most touching and sincere I have read.  I loved that he was not bothered about her superior fighting and hunting abilities, that it was Katsa instead who was unused to being protected and relying on someone for help.

At first I thought Po was a perhaps a little too understanding and supportive, but his upbringing has forced him to be more perceptive and understanding than normal.  Near the end of the book, Katsa gets a chance to support Po through his trials, which showed me the depth and solidity of their relationship.

I highly recommend Graceling to anybody who enjoys YA fantasy.

Fire, a companion/prequel novel to Graceling, will be published in October 2009.