Summary courtesy of Goodreads: In a world where people born with an extreme skill – called a Grace – are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of the skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him. When she first meets Prince Po, who is 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 alone.
Superhuman capabilities, layers of secrets, journeys across treacherous terrain, a smoldering, romantic and sensitive guy…what’s a girl to do?
Be angry. Be full of angst. Declare that marriage is not for her, nor are children and become the epitome of female independence. This is Katsa.
Cashore brings to life a character that is physically strong, mentally strong, but emotionally wrought. Katsa creates a secret council that is meant to undermine and counter the evil she is charged with committing as King Randa’s “thug” since he uses Katsa’s Grace to kill to maintain power and control over his Kingdom and adversaries. Katsa tries to balance all the bad things she does by using the secret council to help those her uncle would hurt.
The book opens with the rescue of a fragile old man who turns out to be the father of the Lienid King. It is here that Cashore shows off all that Katsa can do – she can even hold firm in the face of a charming, handsome stranger. Katsa does not fall for the charisma of men. Katsa can defend herself, she is intelligent and wishes that more women in the kingdom could live their life on their own terms.
(few small spoilers ahead)
The handsome stranger turns out to be Prince Po, grandson of the fragile old man. Prince Po is also graced, he is intelligent, sweet, and so understanding of Katsa’s fierce desire for independence that he is willing to have any relationship with her at all – he will put his life on hold and simply be there whenever Katsa decides she needs him.
I found this really hard to believe. Prince Po is essentially perfect. In every aspect, he is a girl’s dream – handsome, strong, courageous, loyal, sweet, sensitive, understanding, a great lover…royalty without the pressure of being next-in-line for the throne…really, there is absolutely nothing wrong with him. And, I find lots wrong with that. The beauty of protagonists (or strong secondary characters) is in the way they work through their imperfections. Perhaps he was meant to balance all of Katsa’s imperfections – but, it didn’t work because Katsa finds a balance for her flaws on her own.
A book blogger I love to read, Heather at Between the Covers recently reviewed Graceling and her take was to just get rid of the romantic relationship. I hadn’t thought of that at all – but the more I do, the more I realize it would not compromise the integrity of the plot and it would get rid of the mess Cashore creates by having the two characters fall for each other. I don’t think a man like Po would wait around for any woman – even someone as awesome as Katsa.
They have an incredible adventure and Katsa’s abilities surpass expectations. I really liked the way she struggles with her grace. Her anger is palpable, as is her confusion. She does not readily accept her gift and realizes that she is far from perfect. This struggle is challenging and intriguing.
Ultimately, this book is lots of fun to read. Even though it’s dense, it’s pretty easy to get through quickly. It is fast paced and has well-rounded minor characters. Katsa’s journey of self-discovery is inspiring as is her desire to help young women fend for themselves. This book is the first in a series of three; the other two books do not continue Katsa’s tale, but focus on other characters introduced in Graceling. I don’t know if I’ll read them simply because I really liked Katsa’s character and would love to read her again.