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... a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.
I guess that synopsis explains what GRACES are, but in case you didn't catch it, they're "extreme skill[s]" that only certain people are born with in Graceling's world. As you can well imagine, the powers that be in any world--our world or Graceling's world of the Seven Kingdoms--would want to keep these graced individuals close, making use of and all too often taking advantage of their extraordinary abilities. And that's where we first find Graceling, forced to act as the king's bully.
Oh, and then there's this:
I should preface anything further by stating that I'm not normally a big fan of fantasy (with the exception of Tamora Pierce's books). So I came to this story with a bit of an attitude. Graceling has been on my shelf for a few years now, but I wasn't jumping at the chance to read it. When I won an ARC of Bitterblue, the 3rd in the series, I felt that I couldn't waste the opportunity to read it before it was officially released. Rocks*, am I glad I won that ARC. Here's what I love about Graceling:
1. Katsa's World
I loved so much about the world from which Graceling springs--the Graces, the subtle differences between the kingdoms (Lienid sounds beautiful), the names, and so much more that I can't express. In my copy of Fire (Book 2), Cashore discusses all the pleasures and pitfalls of worldbuilding in a fantasy novel. It's really fascinating stuff, and much of it things which had never occurred to me.
2. Kickass Heroine
I'm not going to say too much here because I'm saving Katsa (joined by Katniss) for my 'K' post in the A to Z Challenge. What I will say is that Katsa feels like such a well-rounded character. She may be kickass--owing in large part to her Grace--but she's also just a girl (standing in front of a boy...never mind) struggling with her identity and the choices she'll make in life. Totally relatable.
One of my favourite aspects of nearly every story I read is the romance. Sure a compelling story is a must, but the romantic angle is often what keeps me glued to the page. The romance in Graceling does not disappoint. At all. I'm Team KatPo all the way (bahaha...sounds a little like 'cat poo'**).
4. The Story
The first couple of chapters didn't pull me in as quickly as I would have liked (though, I was more than likely tired or distracted), but after that I just couldn't put it down. I cared a lot about Katsa, really wanted to hug Raffin, couldn't wait to read more about Po (and Po + Katsa), was creeped out big time by the villain (I won't say more), was shocked by a thing or two, and just generally got completely wrapped up in Cashore's world and words. I want these books to just keep on coming.
If I haven't sold you on Gracling, I'm not sure what will (maybe the 54,608 ratings and 4.13 on Goodreads?). Fire was also pretty fantastic, and so far Bitterblue has the makings of greatness***.
Before I wrap up this great big beaster post, let me leave you with a Graceling-related question:
If you could have any GRACE what would it be?
I think I'd either want a GRACE like Graceling's, or I'd want to be fearless (my list of phobias is a mile long). Here's one in Bitterblue that should appeal to moms the world over: Not needing sleep. ☺
*A G-rated cuss word in Graceling.
**Just about as bad as Katniss + Peeta = KatPee or *ahem* if you put Peeta before Katniss in the equation, a part of the male anatomy which shall not be named on my mostly G-rated blog.
***The ARC is a beast! It's more than 1.5 inches thick, which is awesome when it's unputdownable.