As a fantasy book for teens, especially for girls, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, is nearly perfect. The heroine, Katsa, has just the kind of power in life that girls often dream about. (The first time a man tries to grope her, she kills him effortlessly.) Though she is spirited, strong, good and able to make her own decisions, men still find her very attractive and one very beautiful man is more than willing to sacrifice himself for her—a reversal of the roles we commonly experience in real life.
In Katsa’s world there are people called Gracelings who have special powers. They can be identified by the fact that they have two different colored eyes (Kasta’s are blue and green). Sometimes it takes awhile before they find out what their special grace is. Often they are employed by the kings in their seven kingdoms. Katsa has the misfortune of being the niece of the ruthless King Randa. When he finds out that her grace gives her the ability to kill or hurt anyone without being harmed herself, he uses her as a sort of henchman. She does his bidding, but as she comes of age, she also comes into her own power. She creates a secret council which works against Randa’s evil influence and later she turns away him altogether.
Enter Po, a graceling prince with one eye silver and one eye gold. He, too, is an excellent fighter. The two work together to save a young princess. They have constant battles of wills, yet Po (sigh deeply here) understands all of Katsa’s moods and is willing to do just about anything to be her true love. Unlike many such fantasy stories, in Graceling, Katsa doesn’t want to be under the command of a man, and that means she refuses to marry, taking Po as a lover.
My real criticism of the book is that it could have been much shorter, as the writing is redundant. Characters will have conversations—You don’t love me—yes I do—followed by a summary of the conversation—she felt that he didn’t love her, but he said that he did. Not only does this happen again and again, but it happens again and again on the same topic—you don’t love me ‘round five’ and the fifth round summary. However, the up side of this is that it adds to the total number of pages in the book, so you can impress your teacher by reading 475 pages—and you can do it quickly without having to pay too much attention because if you miss one train, it’ll be coming around again very soon.
This is a super-popular book, one of YALSA’s top ten of 2009. COHS students who’ve read it love it, and I’m guessing you will, too.