Graceling by Kristin Cashore I started this because it was on Booklist’s best youth and young adult Fantasy and Science Fiction of 2008 list. And wow.
Katsa, the king’s niece, is Graced, and the world knows it, because her eyes are different colored, one green and one blue. In her kingdom, children with Graces are given to the King, in case the Grace turns out to be useful. Katsa, at eight, killed a man who was trying to molest her with one blow, and has since then been trained as used as the king’s assassin and public torturer. She might not have much in the way of ordinary social graces, but Katsa has a keen sense of justice and started, secretly, a Council to help subvert the often cruel and capricious whims of kings, both her own and those of neighboring realms. As the book opens, she’s on her way to rescue the grandfather of one of the few peaceful kingdoms, who’s been kidnapped for no reason. Though I paused for back story here, the book starts bang in the middle of a cracking good infiltration and fight scene. Near the end of this, she runs into a handsome young prince with one gold and one silver eye, the only person she’s ever met who’s even close to as good at fighting as she is.
The Reader, of course, will have no difficulty ascertaining that this man, Po, will be our Love Interest, and the Reader will be correct. But Katsa coming to admit that she could be attracted to someone is only a small part of the story, though her struggle to find a way to love and retain her independence is rare for teen portrayals of romance. The romance itself takes place in the shadow of Katsa and Po trying to discover what massive and tangled political forces were behind the kidnapping of Po’s grandfather and trying to find out if Po’s aunt and cousin, wife and daughter to yet another king, are safe. Katsa also begins to wonder about her Grace for the first time – both how she has always used it and if it really is killing. There’s an amazing amount of personal growth combined with an impressive and fast-moving adventure, with a plot that moves in quite unexpected directions. This is one we’ll be buying for friends and re-reading ourselves.