Normal. Natural. These are words that Katsa would never, could never use to describe herself. How could she be considered normal when she shudders at the thought of falling in love or having a baby? And then there's her unique talent, the one that has brought her infamy through seven kingdoms. If that's not unnatural, what is?
Throughout the kingdoms, there are people gifted with Graces, known as Gracelings. They can be identified by their different-colored eyes and, more importantly, by the unique, almost magical gifts that set them apart from mere mortals. Others have Graces of drawing, singing, dancing, even swimming. So why is Katsa fated to have the most fearsome Grace of all—the Grace of killing?
Katsa's Grace was discovered when, as a young girl, she accidentally killed a relative who made unwanted physical advances. Since then, her life has been marked by the fear and aversion of others, even as she's spent her entire youth learning to control her urges and master her terrible gift. But Katsa's uncle, the ruler of the middle kingdom, also has learned to control Katsa, and she spends her days helping him enact his reign of terror.
Katsa has found small ways to rebel, but she has seen few ways to escape her uncle's tyranny for good. That is, until she meets Po, a prince from the island kingdom of Lienid, and a Graceling himself. Po's unique Grace seems to make him both Katsa's ideal dueling partner and, perhaps, the only man who could break through Katsa's fortifications and into her heart.
Graceling is the first novel in a new series by first-time novelist Kristin Cashore, and it marks the debut of an intriguing new fantasy world and a fantasy author to watch. Cashore strikes a strong balance between adventure, drama and romance—bloody battles and sexual tension co-exist in equal measure—and Katsa's combination of pride in her unique talents and vulnerability in her self-doubts make her a strongly sympathetic character. Readers will identify closely with this young woman, whose coming of age also involves coming to terms with a talent that is both a blessing and a curse.
Norah Piehl is a writer and editor who lives near Boston. Copyright 2008 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2009 Spring
Lady Katsa was born with a hyper-developed talent for killing. She rebels against her thuggish uncle, the king, by forming the Council, a sort of social justice league, and is drawn into a mystery involving secrets, greed, and kidnapping. With creepy villains, romance, and a butt-kicking but emotionally vulnerable heroine, the story will appeal to fans of girl-power fantasy. Copyright 2008 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2008 #6
Lady Katsa of the Middluns, the most central of the Seven Kingdoms, was born with a terrifying Grace (the Seven Kingdoms term for the hyper-developed talents that occasionally surface in their populations). Katsa's seems to be for killing, and her thuggish uncle, the king, makes her his brute squad. She rebels by forming the Council, a sort of social justice league, and it is through this affiliation that she is drawn into a mystery involving the kidnapping of an elderly cross-kingdom prince, the secret Grace of the king of nearby Monsea, and the kidnapped royal's wicked cute, super-sensitive grandson Po -- also, like Katsa, a Graceling. Katsa's assertion of her independence, and her harnessing of her Grace as subservient to her humanity, form the philosophical skeleton of the narrative, but for the most part this is a straightforward journey-adventure with a hearty dose of too-good-to-be-true romance. Creepy villains aside, Graceling is light fare, anchored in Katsa and Po's fairly simple relationship; with a butt-kicking but emotionally vulnerable heroine, it should appeal to fans of recent girl-power urban fantasies as well as readers who've graduated from Tamora Pierce's Tortall series. Copyright 2008 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2008 September #1
An assured fantasy debut grapples with questions of identity, authenticity and autonomy. Lady Katsa is a Graceling, with an inborn magical gift marking her as both feared outcast and exploitable resource. While her peculiar Grace--the unsurpassed ability to kill--has been honed over the years by her uncle the king to bully and punish, Katsa has also secretly used it to bring a measure of justice to the Seven Kingdoms. When she encounters a strange prince whose mysterious Grace may just be a match for her own, she learns the corrosive seduction of power corrupted, but also the courage to trust others--and herself. Katsa is an ideal adolescent heroine, simultaneously confident of her strengths yet unsure of her place in the world. Every character is crafted with the same meticulous devotion to human comprehensibility, making the villain all the more appalling in his understated, twisted madness. In a tale filled with graphic violence and subtle heartbreak, gentle passion and savage kindness, matter-of-fact heroics and bleak beauty, no defeat is ever total and no triumph comes without cost. Grace-full, in every sense. (Fantasy. YA)First printing of 75,000 Copyright Kirkus 2008 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection Reviews 2009 March/April
Throughout the Seven Kingdoms there are individuals, identified by their mismatched eyes, who are ?Graced? with special abilities. For some their graces may be insignificant things like swimming impossibly long distances, but Lady Katsa?s gift is as a killer. Her uncle, the king, sees the potential use of her as his enforcer. Despite the violence of her grace, Katsa is a young woman who sees beyond the court intrigues and is determined to make a difference. Alongside the prince of a neighboring kingdom, she breaks free from her uncle?s dominance and joins Po in his quest to rescue his cousin, Princess Bitterblue. Katsa?s conflict as she tries to reconcile her perspective of how others see her with who she wants to be adds to the quest storyline. Both the primary and supporting characters are well-drawn with interwoven storylines. The author has created a fresh fantasy situation by mixing a physically strong protagonist with a coming-of-age story of a girl insecure in her own identity. This will appeal to readers who have enjoyed Tamora Pierce?s writings, but this book is more mature in some content. Highly Recommended. Melissa Bergin, NBCT Library Media Specialist, Niskayuna (New York) High School Â¬ 2009 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Library Journal Express Reviews
Lady Katsa killed her first man, a would-be groper, at the tender age of eight. In her world, those who are so "graced" with talent are visible to all, recognized by their differently colored eyes. By day, Lady Katsa is her noble uncle's enforcer; by night, she leads a secret SWAT team dedicated to righting wrongs. On one of its mercy missions, she meets Po, a noble from another kingdom who is every bit the match for her talent and her heart. Cold Weather Appeal: At one point, Katsa risks a treacherous mountain pass to deliver a threatened noble to her family. Why It Is for Us: This debut fantasy features a troubled heroine, a sexy romance, and a complex political world. Adult fans of the genre cannot ask for more.-Angelina Benedetti Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2008 July #3
In a land of seven kingdoms, people with special talents, called Gracelings, are identified by their eyes--Katsa's are green and blue, one of each--although she's eight before her specific Grace is identified as a talent for killing. (While in the court of her uncle, King Randa, she swiped at a man attempting to grope her and struck him dead.) By 18 she's King Randa's henchwoman, dispatched to knock heads and lop off appendages when subjects disobey, but she hates the job. As an antidote, she leads a secret council whose members work against corrupt power, and in this role, while rescuing a kidnapped royal, she meets the silver-and-gold-eyed Po, the Graced seventh son of the Lienid king. That these two are destined to be lovers is obvious, though beautiful, defiant Katsa convincingly claims no man will control her. Their exquisitely drawn romance (the sex is offstage) will slake the thirst of Twilight fans, but one measure of this novel's achievements lies in its broad appeal. Tamora Pierce fans will embrace the take-charge heroine; there's also enough political intrigue to recommend it to readers of Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia trilogy. And while adult readers, too, will enjoy the author's originality, the writing is perfectly pitched at teens struggling to put their own talents to good use. With this riveting debut, Cashore has set the bar exceedingly high. Ages 14-up. (Oct.)[Page 160]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Gr 8 Up-- In this debut fantasy novel, Cashore treats readers to compelling and eminently likable characters and a story that draws them in from the first paragraph. In Katsa's world, the "Graced," those gifted in a particular way, are marked by eyes that are different colors. Katsa's Grace is that she is a gifted fighter, and, as such, she is virtually invincible. She is in the service of her tyrannical uncle, king of one of the seven kingdoms, and she is forced to torture people for infractions against him. She has secretly formed the Council, which acts in the service of justice and fairness for those who have been accused and abused. Readers meet her as she is rescuing the father of the Lienid king, who has been abducted. The reasons for his capture are part of a tightening plot that Katsa unravels and resolves, with the help of Prince Po, the captive's grandson. He has his own particular Grace, and he becomes Katsa's lover and partner in what becomes a mortally dangerous mission. Cashore's style is exemplary: while each detail helps to paint a picture, the description is always in the service of the story, always helping readers to a greater understanding of what is happening and why. This is gorgeous storytelling: exciting, stirring, and accessible. Fantasy and romance readers will be thrilled.--Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City[Page 140]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.