>> Tuesday, April 12, 2016
In a world where people born with an extreme skill - called a Grace - are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of the skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him.This is the first book in Cashore's Graceling Realm series. Well, it's the first one that came out, but chronologically, Fire takes place first, which is why I started with that one.
When she first meets Prince Po, who is Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.
She never expects to become Po's friend.
She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace - or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away...a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.
This takes place, not in the same place, but in the same world as Fire, some 35 years later. The Middluns is a place where a small number of people are born with what's called a Grace, an affinity and inborn ability to do something, to the point that they are incredibly good at it. Graces can go from the mundane (say, being a preternaturally good baker) to the dangerous. Katsa's is an example of the latter. Her Grace is killing.
You can't hide that you have a Grace (the mismatched eyes are a dead giveaway), and Katsa also happens to be the King's niece, so it was even more impossible. Graced individuals belong to the King by law, and King Randa finds Katsa very useful indeed. She takes care of all his dirty work and is crucial to his keeping an iron grip on power.
Having been raised to do this for her uncle, Katsa doesn't even consider the possibility of refusing to obey his orders. But she's not comfortable with the work she does, and this has led to after-hours work with the Council. The Council is a group set up by Katsa and the very few people she trusts fully to help fight injustice. The work they do makes her feel her Grace is finally being put to good use.
It is on a mission for the Council that Katsa encounters Prince Po. And that's when things start to change.
I don't want to say much more about the plot, because one of the things I absolutely loved about reading this was not knowing where things were going. All I'll say is that there is adventure and excitement and tough decisions, and through it, Katsa finally comes into her own. For all her power, the restrictions on how this power can be used have prevented her from being her own woman. The process of her throwing off her shackles and achieving true control over her own life is really, really satisfying.
Although there is so much plot and adventure here that I'd hesitate to call this a character-driven novel, I will say that the characters are really strong. Katsa herself is fantastic, but so are all the secondary characters (except, perhaps, the villain, who felt a bit more sketchily drawn). These people felt real, and I loved to see how the different relationships developed. I particularly loved the romance, even though it wasn't the focus of the novel. I loved that Katsa gains strength through it, and that Cashore never feels she needs to bring her down to make her and Po more evenly matched. And the conclusion is one that might be considered unconventional by some, but I absolutely thought it was the right one, and I loved it.
This series is amazing, and I hope Cashore publishes something (anything!) else soon.
MY GRADE: An A-.