Kristin Cashore mesmerized me with her characters Katsa and Po in this fantasy/paranormal adventure. Graceling takes place in the fantasy world called The Seven Kingdoms, where occasionally a person is born with a "Grace". By the time they turn two, their eyes will change to two different colors revealing that they are graced. A grace can be only slightly useful, like being a gifted cake baker or invaluable like unstoppable sword fighter.
Katsa is graced, only she's led to believe that her grace is fighting. Not only an excellent archer, she can also fight hand-to-hand and sword fight. No one in the seven kingdoms had ever defeat her, which makes her valuable. He uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, forces her to kill for him until she is motivated by his evil to leave his kingdom and transport a child princess, Bitterblue, to safety in another kingdom.
Early in the story, Katsa and Po meet when he allows Katsa to escape King Murgon's courtyard so that he might see what she's up to rescuing his Lienid uncle. The build a strong, beautiful friendship based on trust. Together Po and Katsa try to solve the mystery of who ordered the kidnapping of his old, frail uncle. They spend their time spying and training for battle, fighting with each other as opponents. Although Po has unrivaled sword fighting ability, Katsa's grace makes her unbeatable, even for him. One of my favorite scenes in Graceling is when Katsa and Po really go at it fair and square (almost!). Po never expresses embarrassment from the many, many times she's beat him in training, and Katsa is never boastful of her grace. She always just says that's just the way she is, almost sad at times because of the constant threat of people trying to manipulate her for use of her grace.
Katsa makes a rash decision to take Bitterblue, the young princess of Monsea, over the impassable Monsean mountains in winter. Her trials reveal to her the true nature of her grace, which was not merely fighting. Katsa and Po meet up and Po sufferes a terrible accident that changes his demeanor for the worse. Can Katsa get Bitterblue to safety against all possible odds? Can Katsa help turn Po's outlook back to what it once was? Can she get him to share his secrets?
Graceling is written in a way that takes you on a nail-biting adventure and soothes it with a friendship that stands out even farther than the romance that buds from it. Katsa's self-discovery, unashamed and unassuming of her magnificence will make Katsa your heroin for life.
I give Graceling 5 stars and a quiver full of arrows for my heroin!
Check out this alternate cover - worth 1000 words describing Katsa
You can read my review of Fire (here) and as soon as I read Bitterblue I'll post a review.