Last week, I was complaining on Twitter that no book was holding my attention after finishing The Hunger Games. Someone (and if it was you, thanks so much – please drop a comment so I can give you credit) tweeted that I should try Graceling by Kristin Cashore. My library just happened to have it, and I picked it up the next day. It was fantastic, and grabbed me from the beginning, and saved me from the kind of reading ennui that sometimes comes over me after finishing a particularly good book.
Lady Katsa lives in the kingdom of Middluns, one of seven kingdoms, ruled by seven very different kings. She is one of the Graced, people who are set apart from normal humans by eyes of two colors and extraordinary skill. Gracelings can be skilled in singing, swimming, fighting, mind-reading, building, running, a whole plethora of talents that normal humans have, too. Their Graced condition, however, takes their particular talent to the most extreme degree, and in all but one of the seven kingdoms, makes them the property of the king, to be used at his whim and will.
Lady Katsa is Graced with killing. Her instincts, reflexes, and physical and mental abilities are honed to a keenness that makes Katsa a weapon, a weapon her Uncle, King Randa of Middluns, all too happy to use against his subjects and enemies.
To keep herself from feeling like a complete monster, and to have one thing in her life that her uncle doesn’t have control over – or even know about, Katsa has formed the Council, a group of nobles and fighters who use their skills to counter injustices in the seven kingdoms. On a mission to rescue a kidnapped Lienid man, Katsa encounters Po, a young man with a fighting Grace. He is open, cocky, and looks at her without fear, which is something Katsa never experiences. Her life is destined to be entwined with his, as they seek to discover why his grandfather had been kidnapped. Their investigation uncovers an evil that knows no bounds, an evil from which even Katsa’s Grace can’t protect her. It will take Po and Katsa’s combined skills to fight this evil, and even then, they might not be strong enough.
In her debut novel, Ms. Cashore has created a fully formed world with authentic characters that breathe on the page. I loved Katsa, Po, Raffin, Helda, Bitterblue – these characters became real to me as I read, and I cared deeply about what happened to them. Once I reached the last quarter of the book, I was annoyed by anything that interrupted my reading. I turned the last page with a sad heart, knowing that my time in this world was over, and knowing that Cashore’s next book, Fire, which comes out in October, is a prequel, rather than a continuation of Katsa’s story. According to her web site, however, she does plan a third book, Bitterblue, which will take place six years after the events in Graceling, and which will include some of the characters I came to love. There is no release date for the third book yet, though, so I will just have to be patient. In the fall, I will happily pick up the prequel, Fire, just so I can spend some more time in the world Ms. Cashore has created.