Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Graceling, by Kristin Cashore, tells the story of Katsa, a young woman gifted, or to her mind cursed, with an extreme skill known as a Grace. Katsa, in a world where the Graced are feared by all and controlled by the kings of the Seven Kingdoms, is trying to forge her own path in life.
Tired of the constant demands to act against her conscience by King Randa of the Middluns, Katsa founds The Council, a secret organisation that works against the selfish acts of the kings. During the course of a Council mission, Katsa meets Po, a Leinid Princeling, whose search for his elderly grandfather leads Katsa into a desperate struggle for survival.
After a riotous opener, the action continues into several chapters that manage to combine exposition and world-building with pace and momentum.
The pace slows during the middle third allowing for character development , and a breather, before picking up and moving inexorably towards a thrilling and satisfying conclusion.
Katsa is a very likeable protagonist who, despite her seemingly impossible Grace, is a very real and fully realised character. Her journey is engaging and you’ll be rooting for her in her darkest hour.
The supporting characters are equally well developed, with the exception of a couple of cardboard cutout villains, and Po, Raffin and Bitterblue stand out as prime examples of the distinct nature of the secondary protagonists.
Cashore’s world-building was thorough but subtle and the Seven Kingdoms were a well thought out setting.
Graceling isn’t perfect: the Graces are believable in the context of the novel’s universe but are ultimately a touch contrived. A clumsy attempt at a love triangle is at least mercifully brief.
Despite being over a decade older than the target audience for Graceling, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Pacy, interesting and a stand out in a somewhat difficult and bloated YA market, Graceling is, for me, a four bite book.