Graceling is Kristin Cashore‘s debut novel, about Katsa, one of the many Gracelings throughout the Seven Kingdoms. At random, peoples are graced with enhanced traits; Katsa is graced with the ability to kill, to fight beyond all normalcy. She discovers this at a very early age, and soon begins practicing on platoons of her uncle’s (the king’s) soldiers (fully armored!). As she grows up, she becomes the strong-arm of her power-hungry uncle, but she wants more than that. Then, a kidnapping and the arrival of a foreign visitor takes Katsa on a ride that she never expected, and makes her challenge her beliefs.
I really enjoyed this book. It’s not incredibly deep or allegorical, like some fantasy, but it was fun. Lots of action, some good dramatic moments, as well as a good discussion of power and control: letting yourself be used and intimidated by fear or standing for the right thing no matter what.
Katsa must deal with issues of abuse, more emotional than physical, because she can look after herself, physically. She vows that she’ll never marry, and may not even be capable of love, for she refuses to ever relinquish control of her life to another person. Her healing process is slow, and she becomes more human as the book progresses.
In addition, there’s a good discussion of how tyranny can come in many different guises–not always in an overtly terrifying persona. Rather, it is often subtle, insidious, and difficult to shake off. The villain is truly insidious, though I wish the character could have been fleshed out a bit more.
Also, this book has one of the best names I’ve ever seen: Bitterblue (which is also the title of the third book).
Read it, enjoy it, it’s one of the more entertaining books I’ve read, but unfortunately it’s been overshadowed by The Hunger Games or Percy Jackson. Even so, that’s a big shadow; there’s nothing wrong with Graceling. I’m looking forward to Fire, Cashore’s next book, which is supposedly not really a sequel, as it is a companion novel. We’ll see!