2008; Harcourt; 978-0-15-206396-2 (hardcover)
Summary: Katsa is Graced. Some people in her world, those with eyes of two different colors, have a special ability or talent. It can take many different forms: being able to cook divinely, predict the weather, or climb trees like a squirrel. For Katsa, her Grace is killing. She can kill anyone, with hardly any effort on her part. Her uncle, the King, has taken full advantage of her "gift". And then, Katsa meets a prince from another kingdom. A prince who is a Graceling, too.
My Humble Thoughts on Why This Book Was Shortlisted for the Morris Award
#1: A complete, all-encompassing world.
The world envisioned in Graceling is one that is easy to fall into. Rather than relying on the extreme description found in some fantasy novels, Cashore chooses a more restrained approach. Only those sights that have an impact on Katsa are described, lending additional weight to the emotions experienced by her.
"The buildings of the city were brown sandstone, yellow marble, and white quartz that sparkled with the light from sky and water. And the domes and turrets of the structure that rose above the others and sprawled across the skyline were, in fact, gold: Ror's castle and Po's childhood home. So big and so bright that Katsa hung from the riggings with her mouth hanging open." (page 403)Katsa is a no-nonsense, compelling character, and the tone of the novel suits her story. The description and language allows us to see Katsa's world through her eyes: a world of danger and destruction and hardship but also one of beauty and friendship and love.
#2: An appealing heroine.
To an observer, Katsa is a hard, dangerous young woman. Stories about her Grace--and how her uncle has made her use it--have spread far. There are only a few people she is able to relax around, to show her true self. Throughout the course of the novel, Katsa struggles to let Po in, as well as with her Grace. Having insight into Katsa's tangled throughts creates sympathy and interest within the reader for this character. This is not to say that the other characters aren't compelling. Several of them, such as Po, Bitterblue, and Raffin, leap off the page. In fact, there are too many interesting characters, some of which you're left wanting more of.
#3: A relatable conflict.
Katsa has many challenges, and perhaps foremost is her struggle with her Grace. She discoverd her abilities as a small girl, when she accidentally killed a man who scared her. That experience marks Katsa, leaving her in great fear of losing control. Yet gradually, Katsa comes to realize that perhaps there is more to her Grace than just killing. Like so many teenagers, Katsa is questioning what she's thought before with how she feels. Part of becoming an adult is learning to listen to yourself, to trust your instincts, while still accomodating other people's viewpoints. Katsa's progress along this path is sure to keep teens reading, for her struggle is the same as other teens, the external trappings to the contrary.
Graceling is a novel that sucks in readers almost immediately. With a score of well-rounded characters and a plot that balances action with introspection, Kristin Cashore has written a book that creates a rich fantasy world that will appeal to non-fantasy readers. I was left wanting more at the conclusion of this novel, and I hope to see more of this world, and more from Cashore.