Katsa is skilled in the Grace of killing, and is ruled by King Randa, her uncle. Katsa despises her Grace, and wishes she had the opposite. Out of her desire she forms the Council, a group of people throughout the seven kingdoms who are fed up with the squabbles of reckless kings. Her friends--the captain, guard, and prince--Oll, Giddon, and Raffin, help her lead the Council, as she is guided by her nurse Helda and Raffin's man Ban. As the Council grows, Katsa's desire to kill gets less and less. When she rescues the grandfather of the royal Lienid family, she meets his grandson the youngest prince, Po. Po is Graced is the art of fighting, and is the closest Katsa has ever come to an equal in fighting. Katsa finally finds the courage to leave King Randa's court, and she and Po go on a journey to Monsea, where a terrible danger lurks. Their journey is perilous, the danger far worse than they imagined, for the king of Monsea is Graced, and it could destroy Katsa if she is not careful. Through the cold mountains and ocean, Katsa rescues the heir, Princess Bitterblue of Monsea, and attempts to protect her and get her to safety. However, it comes at the cost of her heart, for she must leave Po behind in Monsea.
This book reminded me of The Girl of Fire and Thorns, but where that one was flat out awesome, I felt that Graceling lacked a bit compared to it. Here is why. I love happy endings in love stories; I really do. Especially in contemporary novels. Graceling is very much a fantasy novel with an impossible journey and mission. Impossible struggles often lead to unhappy endings. I loved Po's character, but the ending with him was just so predicted and unclimatic. It was a beautiful ending, but I wanted more.
Suffice to say I really did like this novel, and am glad I read it, and would totally recommend it. I've read some other reviews that don't like the feminist message, but I think Katsa should have the right to marry or not marry. Although, I do have the issue that Katsa and Po are okay with being lovers when she's always going to leave him. Some people find that their love making diminishes the novel, but I really didn't have a problem with it, because it was not explicitly described. I cannot tell you how much I despise those types of scenes. Something else I didn't like was the King of Monsea, although maybe he's meant to creep me out, I didn't feel like I understood why he was killing people and animals. I also felt that Katsa taking Bitterblue to Lienid was super obvious, of course the King of Monsea is going to be there when they arrive! I don't like the obvious. I also didn't like the names in this book, and thought they were too much (as in the Hunger Games as Graceling can also be compared to).
As for what I liked, I think it might outweigh what I didn't like. Katsa and Po are a terrific match, and I love their eyes. Because they are Graced, their eyes are different colors. Katsa's are green and blue; Po's are gold and silver. I loved that Katsa's Grace turned out to be survival, not killing. Her grace was life, not death, after all. I just thought it was really clever to come up with such a Grace, and I could see how it be misinterpreted. Katsa sure was strong woman! I loved Bitterblue's character, for being so young she sure was wise and strong. I loved the cover of this book, and the British version too. I admired how much Po loved Katsa, even at the risk of his heart and his life. I really enjoyed the part where Katsa and Bitterblue where on the ship, out at wide open sea. I thought the setting was original, and would like to know more about Lienid. I thought it was fascinating that Lienid is the only kingdom where Gracelings are valued and free.
There is a prequel (Fire) and a companion (Bitterblue) to Graceling. Fire is already out, and I so psyched to read it, and Bitterblue comes out May 1, 2012. I can't wait. Covers on right.
Graceling also fulfills the Book Blogger Recommendation Challenge.