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Katsa is the niece of King Randa of the Middluns, one of seven neighboring and frequently quarreling kingdoms. She is also a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. Her blue and green eyes mark her as one of the Graced, to be feared and shunned. In Katsa’s case, her Grace is a particularly terrible one: she is graced with killing, a fact discovered by all when she accidentally ended the life of a man at the age of eight, before she even understood the nature of her abilities.

King Randa makes the reluctant Katsa the instrument of his authority, coercing her to threaten and torture all those who oppose him. Katsa is sickened by the violent acts she commits on Randa’s behalf and initiates a secret Council that acts to temper the abusive actions of Randa and the other kings. When a Council mission sends her to another kingdom to rescue a kidnapped royal grandfather, her life is forever altered when she meets another Graceling who is nearly as gifted in fighting as she herself.

Po is a handsome prince from across the seas, uncannily intuitive where Katsa is concerned, seemingly aware of her very thoughts. His striking eyes, one silver and one gold, appear to follow her everywhere, unsettling her deeply. She is sure he is arrogant, cocky and insufferable, and takes pleasure in inflicting injury on him during their practice fighting matches.

Inevitably, however, Katsa and Po are drawn closer to each other as they work together to investigate the mystery of the kidnapping. Who ordered it, and to what purpose? What is the true story behind the famously benevolent one-eyed prince who appeared out of nowhere many years ago?

As Katsa and Po set forth on a treacherously difficult journey to seek answers to these questions in the other kingdoms, Katsa must also confront the consequences of the attraction she and Po feel towards each other. Katsa has finally shaken off Randa’s clutches and is discovering what it is to be a free woman rather than a mere possession. She has no desire to marry or lose herself again after having spent so many of her years being a slave to someone else’s designs. Can she really give her heart without losing her soul? Can Po accept wild cat Katsa on her own terms and not ask of her more than she is able to give?

GRACELING is an enjoyable and fast-paced book aimed at the young adult fantasy/romance market. There are a few darker elements here as well and the unsettling lesson that good things may sometimes come at a terrible price. Kristin Cashore’s debut novel boasts an intriguing premise, original and engaging characters, and funny, laugh-out-loud exchanges between feisty Katsa and quirky Po. Many teenage girls will see themselves in Katsa.

Reviewed by Usha Reynolds on October 1, 2008

by Kristin Cashore

  • Publication Date: October 1, 2008
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Hardcover: 471 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
  • ISBN-10: 015206396X
  • ISBN-13: 9780152063962