Katsa has known since she was young that she had a Grace (a special ability and one that is marked by two different colored eyes) different from everyone else in her kingdom. Some are graced with athletic talent, others are great cooks, but Katsa’s talent has always been the ability to kill. Graced with speed and strength, there is no man, or any number of men, that can outmatch Katsa’s skills. Katsa ‘s uncle, King Randa, uses her skill set to enforce his law and punish anyone who crosses him. As a mysterious kidnapping plot is unraveled, and a stranger named Po comes into her life, Katsa’s life takes a turn and she begins to question the role she has filled for so long.
The person who recommended this book to me boldy stated “Katsa > Katniss.” As a big fan of The Hunger Games I was skeptical of this statement, but also intrigued, as there are few things I love as much as a kick ass heroine. I don’t know that I would agree that Katsa is greater than Katniss, but she is certainly worthy of being called an equal. Graceling is set in a world where Kings and kingdoms exist, and though it’s a fairly typical fantasy setting, Cashore manages to eschew most of the stereotypes of the genre. The book starts right in the middle of the action, with Katsa rescuing a kidnapped prisoner, taking down several men in the process. Cashore creates some great action scenes, but also constructs really interesting characters with depth and dimension. Katsa is by no means a mindless killer, and from the beginning questions the morality of using her Grace to harm others. I really liked that she was a strong character with an equally strong personality, but was also able to step back and consider situations and consequences. Katsa is a a believable and thoroughly enjoyable protagonist.
I was also a big fan of Cashore’s prose and storytelling. She strikes just the right note, mixing action, mystery, and relationships, but never uses a heavy hand. There is a love story, but her depiction of Katsa and Po’s relationship is balanced, with Katsa and Po being equals in all aspects, and while the relationship is important to the story, it never overwhelms it. This book is a solid mix of adventure, action, and strong characterization and I would recommend it to anyone who likes a fun, intriguing read. It is technically fantasy, but like the best stories, it transcends its genre to tell a great story about its characters and how they handle the challenges they are faced with. I can’t recommend this book enough.