Wow, what a surprise. Can I just say, I loved, loved, loved this book. Graceling has been prominent in a lot of sff blogs and review sites for a while now and has garnered lavish praise. But it didn’t really tickle my fancy until I saw it at my local library and decided, why not? Let’s give it a try. And boy am I glad I did. From the first sentence to the last, Graceling hooked me by its beautiful sentences and incredible story. Kristin Cashore is an amazing writer, and the world she has created is inspired. The world of the Seven Kingdoms itself may be familiar to readers of fantasy, but the graces which bless/inflict some of the characters is a really interesting concept. This is a clever twist on superhero powers and Cashore uses this to explore feelings of alienation, belonging, power, greed and love.

The strength of Graceling lies in the characters, especially the two main protagonists who you will fall in love with as the story progresses. Katsa and Po first meet in a dramatic rescue of Po’s grandfather who was kidnapped by an unknown enemy. What makes this encounter special is that both Katsa and Po are graced with eyes of two different colours and very special gifts. But these graces are not always welcome: Katsa’s grace is killing and she has been working for her uncle, King Randa, as his personal enforcer, dishing out pain and punishment to keep his law. She is ashamed of who she is and wishes somehow that she could change. Po is graced with fighting but has a secret to keep even from his own family. And in a world where peace is an ever fragile thing, there is one person who is drunk on power and wants its all. Katso and Po must find who tried to kidnap his grandfather and prevent the world falling into the hands of their enemy.

Cashore’s novel is deliciously twisted and she strikes a fine balance between good and evil. I liked Katsa who is a feisty, strong and yet vulnerable young woman who knows what she does and doesn’t want and who understands the pain of alienation. She lives in a man’s world and the only reason she can move about it freely is her royal stature and her strength. Cashore has created a heroine who is a better fighter than the men around her, yet I found her extremely feminine and compassionate. However she doesn’t use her femininity to fight, she fights the men on their terms. Katsa knows who she is and doesn’t try to be anyone else. She struggles with her identity and comes out of this struggle stronger and more self assured. And in the process, she finds love and is able to open herself to another person. This is something that all of us go through and Cashore writes about it beautifully.

I, for one, cannot wait to read Cashore’s next book Fire which has just been published this year.

This is my first offering for the Women Unbound Challenge.