Have you ever fallen in love with a character in a novel? I have. In fact, I fell in love with one of my characters in this outstanding introduction to Kristin Cashore’s superior imagination and grace for weaving a story.
Katsa has been able
to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight! A fact her uncle, the king, uses to his advantage regularly as an instrument of punishment. Katsa is not only his assassin, she is his property. As are all Gracelings by law, if he finds them useful.
A Graceling. A person of unnatural ability in one skill or ability, such as baking, or predicting weather, or even useless “skills” such as talking backward.
For Katsa, it appears her grace is killing.
But Katsa is sick of it! She is sick of killing, she’s sick of maiming, she’s sick of being a pawn, she’s sick of the look in people’s eyes when they see her eyes: One green. One blue. For all Gracelings are marked by their two distinct coloured irises. She wants to use her grace to better the lot in life of the people in her land, not as a strongarm to greed. Secretly, she is doing so under the kings very own nose but it’s too little, too late and she knows it’s not enough.
Then she meets Po. Po is neither intimidated by nor susceptible to her grace. In fact, he seems equal to her in most ways. Of course, a love will bloom, but it takes twists and turns you would never expect, nor will I spoil them for you.
Strange tales are leaking into their land. Stories of the land beyond the mountains, where King Leck sits on the throne. Po’s sister Ashen is wife to King Leck and Po is worried for her. Something is just not right! Together, Katsa and Po set out to uncover the whole truth in a land where secrets could destroy the world with simple words.
I originally picked this book up as a filler. You know, a need-something-to-read-and-there’s-nothing-better-looking-on-the-shelf-filler. This is one book, I truly judged by its cover and I’m so glad I did.
The artwork is simple, yet somehow blends strength and femininity. This is our first clue to the “ass-kicking but emotionally vulnerable” (Horn Book) heroine that is Katsa.
The next judgment came in reading the starred reviews (sometimes those reviewers know what they’re talking about!) Okay, when Tamora Pierce (one of my top 10 authors) says:
“Here’s a WOW of a book! Seeing half-wild Katsa learn humanity as she battles soldiers, storms, and her own obsessive nature – I HAD to know how it ended!”
then I know it’s going to be worth my $11.99, plus tax!
Worth it and more. I enjoyed the story so much, I recommended it to my 12 year old son (who also loved it, but he dogeared my book so I wanted to scream!) and begged him to read it right away so we could talk about it. I was fascinated by the depth of self-reflection in this young adult feature and as a young man coming of age, I really wanted his take on it. Though found commonly, I don’t typically find this depth of mining the self-discovery theme in young adult reads but Katsa is drawn as a three, possibly four, dimensional character whom we can’t help but identify with as she comes to terms with the double edged nature of her grace.
If this were a starred review, I would give it 4.5 stars out of 5. (Just so you know, I would also have given The Host, my favourite book a 4.5) The concept was original, the story-telling superb, the characters had dimensions. There is something for everyone as Cashore’s developed the perfect blend of action, romance and drama in her debut novel. Publisher’s Weekly said it best when they said:
“With this riveting debut, Cashore has set the bar exceedingly high”
P.S. I did also read “Fire” and “Bitterblue”, the follow-up books in the trilogy. While I would give Fire another 4.5 stars out of 5, I would give Bitterblue only 3.5 After the amazingness of the first two installments, I found the final novel to be a let down. (sorry!) However, I could never have not read it! Each of the first two books could be read as stand-alone novels, but having a conclusion is just plain satisfying.