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.
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:
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.
This Is My Secret
Although we guess it's not much of a secret anymore… Check out Kristin Cashore's blog for info on her books, her appearances, and her "weird blogging behavior explained," among other things.
Graceling at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Here's the publisher's page for Graceling, featuring an interesting book trailer made by… well, it's unclear actually.
Recommend Graceling to a Friend with BookBrowse
With permission from publishers, BookBrowse offers free excerpts from books, and they've got the first seven or so pages from Graceling so you can get a friend hooked without lending them your copy.
Kristin Cashore By the Book in the NY Times
A regular feature in the NYT, this interview from July of 2012 features Kristin Cashore.
Think Graceling is anti-marriage? Think it's not? Find out what Kristin Cashore thinks about the subject.
Shelf Elf Interview
What inspires Kristin Cashore? What does her workspace look like? What Grace does she find most terrifying? Get those answers and plenty more in this interview. (Conducted by a shelf elf, no less.)
KC Intros Her Books
At a reading for her novel Bitterblue, Cashore gives a basic intro to her books in which she mentions that they take place in a world with nine kingdoms. Yep, we said nine. And so did she. Looks like we might need to read some sequels/prequels.
Behind the Mic: Graceling
This is kind of cool. It's a look at the folks from Full Cast Audio recording their version of Graceling. Remember, it's audio, so these folks don't have to look like the characters. They just have to sound like them. For that reason, we almost think this plays better with your eyes closed.
Pierce on Katsa
Also from Full Cast Audio, Tamora Pierce talks about Graceling! (And yes, that sentence deserves an exclamation point.)
Kristen Cashore's novel has inspired more than a few renderings of dichromatic eyes on platforms like deviantart.net. Could these be Katsa's eyes?
Wondering What the Author Looks Like?
Wonder no more. Here's a photo of Kristin Cashore at the 2012 Texas Book Festival.
The Danish Cover
This is one of our favorites of the nineteen distinct covers for Graceling. The Danes took a pretty artsy approach. See what you think, and then see how many of the other eighteen covers you can find online.