by Kristin Cashore
In seven neighboring kingdoms, on rare occasions, a child is born whose eyes change into two different colors. This is a sign that the child possesses a “grace,” an extraordinary gift or skill, that does not make itself known right away.
Katsa, niece to King Randa of the Middluns, discovered her grace at age 8, when one of her uncle’s guests placed his hand inappropriately on her leg. Katsa meant only to defend herself, but she killed the man instead—to her horror and the king’s delight. Now the king can compel his niece to punish his erring subjects or enemies. But Katsa despises this role, and forms a council together with her cousin, Prince Raffin, and several others, to carry out secret goodwill missions. While she is on one of these missions, Katsa meets her match—physically and intellectually—Po, the graceling seventh son of King Ror of Lienid. The mystery of the kidnapped royal they save at the novel’s start, and the adventure as they unravel it, clips along. But the heart of this tale rests on the relationship that grows between Katsa and Po, and what they learn from each other as two graceling fighters who become friends. Together they explore the furthest extent of their graces, and begin to grow up.
The book explores the yin and yang of life and death, freedom and belonging. Is Katsa’s grace purely a gift for killing? What about her missions with the council? Katsa and Po develop a sexual relationship in one scene, which allows the author to explore the deeper question: Does love bind one being to another, or can a trust that stems from a more mature love allow each partner greater freedoms? For teens, whose first love is often all-consuming, this book drills down to the essence of what defines human beings and their relationships to one another.