In A Nutshell
The good news for Katsa is that she has a super-duper special ability, something she's better at than anyone else. The bad news? Her ability is killing people. Which doesn't exactly win her a lot of friends.
See, in the seven kingdoms, some people are born with Graces—special abilities concentrated in one area. These people are called Gracelings, and they're easy to recognize because their eyes are always two different colors (Katsa has one green eye and one blue). Now a Grace can be something as useful and yummy as cooking (imagine being a master chef at ten, with no training, just natural ability) or something as seemingly useless as being able to hold your breath for a really long time. There's quite a range.
And Katsa? Well, she's kind of off the charts.
When she was eight, one of her cousins—a real creep of a guy—tried to grope her, and she smashed his skull. That's how her Grace was discovered, and that's when her uncle, King Randa, started training her to be his itty bitty enforcer, a role she's played more or less without question for the last eight years. As you can imagine, Katsa has some issues, and that—along with a mysterious kidnapping, lots of skulking around, a sinister secret, and a compelling romance—is what earned Graceling the description, "spellbinding," from Pulitzer Prize winning writer Junot Diaz.
Obviously Katsa isn't your average eighteen year old, and a few of the choices she makes have caused some people to complain that author Kristin Cashore is anti-marriage and pro-casual sex. But these criticisms have had little effect on the book's popularity. First published in 2008, Graceling, a New York Times Bestseller, has been distinguished as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults (2009), a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year (2008), and a School Library Journal Best Book of 2008.
If you want to see the rest of the awards it's won, go for it, but we recommend that you get a copy pronto and find out how good it is for yourself. And be quick about it because it's the first book in a trilogy, followed by Fire and Bitterblue. Yes—there's way more where this comes from.
So what are you waiting for? Get reading.
Why Should I Care?
Sure all the action, espionage, and secrecy keep Graceling moving along at a nice clip (which makes it a pretty easy and enjoyable read). And yes, Katsa is pretty much a medieval fantasy version of Jason Bourne. But this isn't your typical thriller where it's always easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys, the right choices from the wrong ones.
As in life—ours at least, and we're guessing yours, too—things in the seven kingdoms aren't always black and white, especially when it comes to lying. Maybe you can relate. Have you ever:
- been in a situation where you felt like you had to lie to someone, for a really good reason?
- been lied to by someone else, who (presumably) felt like he or she had a really good reason?
- told someone the truth, or had someone tell you the truth, only to realize that lying might have been a better choice for everyone involved?
- found yourself waffling between lying or telling the truth, unable to figure out which one is the right choice?
Truth, lies—we tend to think one is always good and the other is always bad, but it's not quite that cut and dry. We know it, you know it, and in Graceling, Kristen Cashore does a great job of blurring the lines between right and wrong when it comes to making a choice between lying and telling the truth.
So yeah, this book could give you some good material for your debate club, your philosophy class, your next argument with your parents or friends, or just to bounce around inside your own head. And it will entertain you in the process.