There is no hiding the fact that Katsa is a Graceling. She has the mismatched eyes of all of her kind. Because Katsa is the niece of the king of Muddlins, there is also no hiding the nature of her Grace—she kills people. And like many other Gracelings, she is under the control of her lord and must bend to his will.
Since she was just a little girl, Katsa has been used as a thug to extract payments from underlings and to keep King Randa's subjects in line. She, however, does not have a killer's heart and hates the fear she invokes when she walks into a room.
Now, at eighteen, Katsa is part of a secret Council that tries to capitalize on her reputation and Grace in order to do good . . . without the killing. After rescuing Tealiff, a Lienid elder, from kidnap and torture, Katsa meets his grandson Po, another Graceling.
The Council soon discovers that they have begun to unearth a larger, and lethal, plot that will affect all seven kingdoms of their world. Katsa now must balance her obligations to her uncle, her desire to use her Grace for good, her need for independence, and her growing affection for Po.
Graceling, by Kristin Cashore, introduces us to a strong-willed young woman who has had to struggle to stay true to her own nature, despite social pressures. Until Katsa meets Po, her only forms of rebellion have been to live alone with her housemaid, to refuse to get married, and to form the Council to use her Grace to help others.
When Katsa decides to join Po in the investigation of his grandfather's kidnapping, she learns much more than political intrigue. She begins to see the truth of her Grace and her own strength and character.
Warning: Very minor spoiler in this paragraph. Part of Katsa's appeal is that she does not abandon her fundamental tenants when she meets Po and learns more about being a Graceling. In fact, this is one of the primary strengths of the novel. All too often, the female lead is tamed by the leading male.
Unfortunately, the key to the kidnapping and the secret of the bad guy are fairly easy to figure out, although the particulars of the plan of action our heroes will take are not transparent. There is also some obvious foreshadowing of other events.
Although Katsa, Po, and the other principal characters are likable and the world that Cashore has created is intriguing, the story seemed to be lacking the historical depth that allows for suspension of belief. The writing is not always smooth, and the entire novel could have used a stronger edit to avoid repetition and build more suspense.
On the other hand, Katsa's story will appeal to readers looking for an intelligent heroine who wishes to find a way to be self-reliant while letting herself experience the joys of friendship and love.
I listened to the audio edition of the novel read by David Baker, Chelsea Mixon, and Zachary Exton and produced by Full Cast Audio. All three narrators were new to me, and they did an adequate job. However, the production was marred by the addition of music and sound effects. I believe the music was meant to increase the mood, but it was silly at worst and annoying at best. The echo effect used for some of Katsa's thoughts was probably unneeded. If I decide to read Fire, the next in the series, I'll read the novel in print.
Here is the trailer for Graceling. Stick with it, the creepy eyes go away after 25 seconds.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008
ISBN 13: 9780547258300
Source: Bought (see review policy)