Synopsis (from Goodreads):
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.
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.
In a nutshell, I love Graceling by Kristin Cashore.
I’ve recently read too many books promising a strong female lead, only to come away from them frustrated and disappointed. Too long have I been searching for a true heroine, and I finally found her in Katsa.
Katsa reminds me of Katniss as she was in the first Hunger Games novel – smart, efficient, and determined. Both faced impossible odds with grace and composure. But perhaps what Cashore does better than Collins is the development of the love interest. Sometimes in emphasizing the strength of the female characters, there is a tendency to push the men into their shadow. With Katsa and Po, it is a relationship of equals. A woman can be empowered without her partner having to shrink in comparison. In combat, Katsa does surpass Po, but it is a point of respect between them. He says to her:
“But you’re better than I am, Katsa. And it doesn’t humiliate me. It humbles me. But it doesn’t humiliate me.”
The male character is secure in himself, and complements our female lead rather than competes with her. Also, Katsa rejects marriage in favor of “being true to herself.” (Read: http://kristincashore.blogspot.com/2009/01/mawage-mawage-is-what-bwings-us-togefer.html). Po understands this and even lifts her up. Kristin Cashore deftly manages a balance between Katsa’s need for independence and her encompassing love for Po. Katsa shall not wither at the sight of a good-looking man, dammit! Nonetheless, a woman can be tough and also embrace her sexuality.
The adventure takes place in the Seven Kingdoms, which is a rich terrain of eccentric rulers and their eponynmous cities, daunting mountain passes, and forests brimming with wildlife (they never seemed to run out of rabbits to roast). It actually made me think of Eugenides’ world from Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series (which you should also read). The Graces are especially fascinating, these extreme skills being either a source of awe or fear. It is against this backdrop that Katsa discovers herself and her humanity. The fights, so colorfully described, were extremely entertaining. And I’m not going to hide my satisfaction over the fact that Katsa wipes the floor with everyone.
This was a post by Kubi whose days in the mountains are numbered.