Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Lady Katsa has a special gift, a grace, one that gives her the ability to kill. Working for the King, Katsa travels the country torturing, maiming, and killing anyone the King wishes. Secretly, she has created a council that rights some of those wrongs, but even she knows that isn’t enough. When a young man with a fighting grace arrives at court, Po befriends Katsa and makes her question everything; her loyalty, her grace, and what it means to stay true to yourself.
There are very few books I read these days that I feel have a true epic quality. Of course, when we think of epics we think of Tolkien or George R.R. Martin, but often children’s and young adult series can have such a limited feel, as if the age or length takes away the epic scope that they could possess. There is also that ever nagging feeling that, as far as high fantasy is concerned, the author is just imitating Lord of the Rings as I felt when reading the series by Croggon.
Graceling never felt that way. This is a world wholly belonging to the author with its own magic that never felt overly complicated nor too simple. As is one of my favorite things in any novel, the plot was wholly unpredictable. As I read I was constantly thinking one thing would happen and when it didn’t I couldn’t help but smile.
Katsa, despite her standoffish, is a truly relateable character. She struggles with the labels that others have put on her and desperately wishes to be something else, something more. Po (Katsa’s love interest) is both strong, mysterious, and struggling with his own secrets. Each of the characters, from the little princess to the evil King are wholly memberable, rounding out the book and breathing life into the story. The plot is crisp and quick, like Katsa who hates doing anything slow.
I imagine there may be some parents who may be a little concerned over the blatant sex scenes and Katsa rejecting the standard mode of marriage, however I think teens are savvy enough to think for themselves and parents shouldn't be choosing their teens' books anyway. Personally, I thought the interactions for very believable for the characters. This is a medieval like world in which young teens are looking for suitors and thinking of marriage as soon as they hit puberty. Katsa's grace may be the only thing that has really protected her from serious and unwanted attention.
As a side note, I read a few other reviews of this book and found it interesting that the reviewers suggest that parents can discuss the "themes" of this book with their teens. Now, be honest...when was the last time you (the parent) or you (the teen) actually read the same book? Do parents really read the same books as their teens and discuss the themes with them? I read a ton of books as a teenager and frankly, unless I read them aloud, my parents never read any of them. As a teenager, I would have felt more than a little demeaned if my mother read the same books as me in an effort to control what I read and/or to discuss the themes with me. I can't imagine I'm the only teen who would not have liked that.