Katsa’s gift makes her beloved of a cruel king and feared by his people. She is Graced with the ability to fight beyond ordinary human strength and skill. Forced to serve her ruthless king, Katsa spends her days dealing punishment on behalf of the Middluns king. Unbeknownst to the king, she forms the Council, a neutral organization without loyalty to any one crown. The Council deals swift justice to those who would prey upon the weak. As part of a Council mission, Katsa rescues a kidnapped prince and stumbles upon a greater plot and a king whose evil far outmatches any other. Katsa and her ally Prince Po race across mountains toward the home of the evil king. They must stop him before he destroys anyone else.
For the most part, I enjoyed Katsa and Po’s characters. Po was definitely my favorite though I think his name is silly. Most of the other characters are a bit under-developed and one-dimensional. Bitterblue, a ten year-old girl had really bizarre dialogue for her age. I wanted to like her, and I did, and then she’d open her mouth and I’d be confused. It just didn’t fit a character her age.
Since I recently read Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, I think it would have been difficult for any fantasy story to impress me with world building, as Hartman sets that bar really high. In this area, Graceling definitely left me wanting. There were a few strong elements – the idea that humans would be Graced with different gifts and how that could change lives for good or ill. The Leinid people had some interesting traditions. I liked that a lot. Many things are left really vague or over-simplified. The relationships between kings are rocky – why? Because they’re all vapid annoying guys. End of story.
The romance took center-stage a lot more than I expected from the book description. While I liked both characters and even liked the relationship they had, I tripped over some of the reasons behind it. Katsa maintains through the whole book that she intends never to marry. Okay, that’s cool. A few times other characters would straight-up ask, “Are you going to marry him?” in a context that didn’t seem believable to me – that instead felt more like a staged opportunity for Katsa to judge everyone for being marriage-obsessed.
I’ve read some reviews complaining about this book having a “feminist agenda.” Honestly, other than the few times it came up in dialogue, it wasn’t a big thread in the story. Obviously, though, this may not be the message some families want to send to their young girls – that being lovers is a superior alternative to marriage. So that’s worth evaluating and/or discussing.
Kissing and references to sex. Katsa takes a lover and makes it very clear that she will not marry him, but is willing to live as his lover until either of them decide to part ways. Their sexual exhanges are not graphic, but they are obvious and not brief.
Katsa has a reputation for carrying out punishment and torture on those who’ve displeased the king. Brief references to the things she’s done – breaking bones, etc. She does not like to kill anyone even though she is capable of doing so easily. In one scene, an archer shoots a woman in the back. In another, a man suffers a serious shoulder wound. Not too gory, but there are bits of violence throughout the story.
Po acts silly and Katsa accuses him of being drunk.