Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Ruby's take: Katsa was only eight years old when she killed for the first time. She is one of the "Graced," a person who is distinguished by their eyes, which are different colors. She has the Grace of fighting and is used by her uncle, King Randa, to be his "lady killer," to carry out torture and killings to satisfy any wrongs (right or otherwise) done to him.
In order to bring some good from her Grace, Katsa and her friends form the "Council" to help people throughout the seven kingdoms who have been unjustly punished, imprisoned, or abused. Through this secret council, Katsa rescues an elderly man who turns out to be a prince from a neighboring kingdom. His grandson, Prince Po, comes looking for him in the kingdom of Middluns.
Po is also Graced with superior fighting skills and is a welcome fighting partner for Katsa. The two form a close friendship...which turns into more. Both are pulled into a plot that starts with the kidnapping of Po's grandfather and turns into something far more dangerous. Po and Katsa have to rely on each other and their Graces to survive.
This is one of the best books I've read this year. I had put off reading it, but when I found out that a third book (Book 2 is Fire, and the third is tentatively titled Bitterblue) will be coming out later this year, I had to hurry up and read it. Cashore's writing is fluid, descriptive, and utterly delightful. She really knows how to bring the story to life. All the characters are relatable, but the focus of the story is Katsa, and what a woman! Being graced with the ability to fight while controlling her anger is one of the many challenges she faces, but she does so with great courage and strength. Prince Po is definitely a great match for her, as he respects her abilities and who she is. Best line in the whole book: "If there's anyone I wish to stun at dinner, I'll hit him in the face." All in all, a great first novel.
Jenny's take: My turn! I read Graceling about a year ago and loved it. I'll leave the summary bits out for the most part (since Ruby covered it above), but I will say that a vital part of Katsa's struggle is internal as she comes to terms with not only her grace and how to handle herself but also her response to those around her (including those with other graces). Her physical journey turns into an emotional one as she starts, for the first time, to allow others into her heart and mind. And the best part? She kicks butt the whole time. Think of a female gladiator/Robin Hood/progressive princess/avenger/assassin, and you've got a pretty good vision of Katsa.
Cashore has found a way to combine about a billion genres into one fantastic book: action, fantasy, survival, epic journey, romance, and mystery, to name a few. To cap it all off, she did an amazing and fluid job; her writing style grabbed my attention from the start and kept me captivated all the way through. Fans of The Hunger Games trilogy will enjoy the independent fighter Cashore has created, along with the in-depth and beautiful fantasy world that completes the package.
As a follow-up, read Fire, also by Cashore. It's a prequel of sorts, though there is only one overlap character and the story takes place in a different part of the world with monsters and people of an entirely different nature. It makes for another great read!
Publisher: Graphia (September 2009)
Also available as an eBook.
Image from www.bn.com