This was my…fourth (I think) time reading this book. And it was still totally amazing.
Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight – she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.
When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.
She never expects to become Po’s friend.
She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace – or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away.
This book is a classic for me. My favorite assassin book, hands down. And I’ve read about a lot of assassins.
Katsa has had a hard life. Everyone in the castle fears her because of her Grace, and because of how the king Randa uses her Grace. She is his strongarm, sent to torture or kill people who disobey his rule. Katsa has begun to think of herself as a monster, and her only outlet to use her powers for the greater good is through a network of spies called the Council. She set up the Council as a way to counter the abuses of the seven kings of the seven kingdoms and to keep peace.
It is on a mission for the council that she first encounters Po, a Graced fighter. Po is looking for his grandfather, who Katsa just rescued. Po then follows her to Randa’s court…and plot ensues.
Seriously, the pacing of this book is perfect. Katsa and Po’s relationship evolves from distrust to friendship in just the right amount of time. Each event of the plot hurdles you into the next one, but it doesn’t feel like things are happening unrealistically quickly. It’s just…perfect. (Can you tell I like this book a lot?)
The fantasy element of this book is simplistic, but it works. People are randomly born Graced, with eyes two different colors and a random talent. Sometimes Graces are valuable, like being amazing at archery or hand fighting, and sometimes they are useless, like talking backwards or being able to swim very well. There isn’t any other magic in the world, just a medieval-esque setting. Still, it reads like a fantasy book.
The search for Po’s grandfather leads Katsa and Po across the continent, where they stumble into a far larger conspiracy. This leads the book to have a slightly fragmented feeling between the first half’s plot and the second half’s. The first half is undeniably happier, and a lot of authors would have skipped the second half entirely, but without the second part, the plot would not have been nearly as impressive.
The romance between Katsa and Po develops well. I love Katsa’s reaction when she realizes that she loves Po; it forces her to confront parts of her personality she has never faced before. They are one of my favorite literary couples; they compliment each other so well.
Katsa grows throughout the entire book, never changing so drastically that it becomes unbelievable, but changing enough that the reader can connect to her. Po’s influence can clearly be seen, but it is still clear that she is the one taking the steps toward being a better person. She has a bit of a feminist streak, which I love.
I would recommend this book to fans of assassin books who love great writing, sweet romance, and a complex plot that raises the YA fantasy bar.