Graceling by Kristin Cashore

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Publication Date:
October 1st, 2008
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN:  015206396X
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
Source: Library
Lootability: ****
Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.     When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words aloneKristin Cashore has taken an old idea and made it young again in her new fantasy trilogy for young adults. 
In the Seven Kingdom some children are born different, its not immediately obvious but within the first years of a child's life their eyes will settle into two different colours and you'll know. This child has been Graced. 
Each Grace is different. Some have photographic memories, voices like songbirds or, like Katsa you could be Graced with the ability to kill a man with one hand.

What I Liked: I've read lots of stories about people who are born Gifted (Tamora Pierce's Tortall series, or Alison Croggon's Gift) but I appreciated the new direction Cashore took it in. No one was any more supercharged than any one else; they just had different depths to their Grace.
Katsa is a dynamic character - the niece of a King and Graced with killing she is forced to do his bidding, while in secret she fights against the cruelty of monarchies in the Seven Kingdoms. She is disgusted by her Grace and what she is forced to do because of it; Katsa tries to find a reality beyond her life as a glorified murderer.
Prince Po is a bit of a mystery - also Graced, he alternatively pushes and pulls at Katsa, wanting her close but fearing the consequences. When together they set of to Monsea, to discover why Po's aunt and Queen of Monsea is hiding away in her rooms. Together they grow and learn more about each other, themselves and their Graces.
The main crisis, the persuasive gift of King Leck, is thrilling. They must save Princess Bitterblue from her abusive, and psychotic, Father while avoiding the reach of his persuasive magic. 

What I Didn't Like: The last few chapters: Leck's demise felt too sudden and too easy. However, I also think it was appropriate that he was too manipulative to lose a longer battle. It was resolved, but it was a little took easy. I'll let you make your own decision here.
I really liked Katsa but I got sick of her man hate. She was so anti-man that her own role as a masculine woman, was an uncomfortable contrast. She pitied other women and detested men, she just couldn't empathise with anyone male or female.
As for the outcomes of Po's injury - I wasn't happy. All actions have consequences but I wonder sometimes whether authors make needless sacrifices when writing their characters just to be dramatic.I felt like Cashore was in a way, sacrificing Po to the drama of the book. 

I really did enjoy the story despite being a bit sceptical of the conclusion and I really enjoyed the second book Fire, and look forward to Bitterblue available May 2012.
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