Review of Graceling by Kristin Cashore – Book 1 of The Seven Kingdoms trilogy

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I discovered on Google that this New York Times Best Seller is a YA book. Although I had guessed from the restraint shown in both the fights and romantic scenes, I wouldn’t let that label dissuade a more mature reader from picking up this fantasy book. The characters are well drawn, particularly the main female protagonist; and the world has some interesting original touches that drew me in. Cashore writes with pace and this enjoyable tale kept me reading far into the night, when I should have been asleep…

In a world where people born with an exceptional skill, known as a Grace, are both feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a gracelingskill even she despises: the Grace of killing.  As a Graced killer who has been able to kill a man with her bare hands from the age of eight, she’s forced to work as the king’s thug. Feared by the court and shunned by those her own age, the darkness of her Grace casts a heavy shadow over Katsa’s life.

When the King of Liend’s father is kidnapped she investigates and stumbles across a mystery. Who would want to kidnap the old man, and why? The intrigue surrounding this crime offers her a way out of her violent life that she has come to loathe. But little does she realise as she plunges into this adventure that the menace awaiting can even overwhelm her superhuman strength and threatens to engulf all the Seven Kingdoms…

Katsa is related to King Randa, which doesn’t stop him coldly using her as a tool to perform his dirty work, when his grasping, bullying tactics do not work on his hapless subjects. Katsa is, unsurprisingly, damaged by her upbringing – and Cashore manages to depict the flaws in her heroine, without holding up the story in any way. Given Katsa’s ability to battle and kill quantities of foes, Cashore manages to come up with an ingeniously wicked villain who poses a real threat to this apparently invincible protagonist. The inevitable romantic sub-plot is also well handled, managing to deliver some unexpected twists along the way and building to a strong ending. It comes as no surprise to learn that Graceling has appeared on a number of listings, including the ALA’s William C. Morris YA Award and was a finalist for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction & Fantasy Award. Altogether, a satisfying and engrossing read that had me immediately reaching for the second book in the series, Fire.  At present the final book in the series, Bitterblue is due to be released in June 2012 .

9/10

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