"Graceling" is a great fantasy novel for young adults and teenagers, and it can serve as well as a suitable introduction to the fantasy genre, as this book summary will show.
The Story of Katsa
Graceling is a fantasy novel targeted toward the young adult market. Written by Kristin Cashore, it tells the story of a young woman named Katsa, who is somewhat of a warrior princess. Although this brief introduction to the story may make it sound shallow, as you will see, the novel is anything but.
The novel begins with Katsa, the main character of the story, breaking into a dungeon with two friends to rescue an old man, who is also a member of the royal family of an island called Liened. In freeing this member of the royal family of Liened, by overpowering a group of guards, Katsa shows extraordinary fighting ability. She easily bests an accomplished fighter, but allows him to live instead of finishing him off.
We learn as well that these fighters--and Katsa--have “Graces." These are special abilities bestowed upon individuals in the world called Gracelings, and Katsa’s Grace appears to be fighting. However, Graces can range from anything from being able to predict the weather accurately, which is useful, to being able to climb very tall trees, which is not as useful. As well, Gracelings normally have eyes of two different colors. For example, one of Katsa’s eyes is green and the other is blue.
We also learn in these first few chapters that Katsa developed her Grace after accidently killing her step cousin, who was touching her in an inappropriate way when she was 8. Since then, she has been trained in how to wield various weapons, and most of all, how to kill.
As the story progresses, we see that Katsa, who is basically her uncle’s (King Randa) thug, begins to become disillusioned with the work she is carrying out, which includes assassinations and tortures. We learn that fighting might not be her special skill. In fact, she goes as far as to create The Council, a group dedicated to doing good through the Seven Kingdoms, the world in which she lives. However, she continues to go on missions for her uncle, the king.
The Plot Thickens
We learn that the experienced fighter Katsa spared at the beginning of the novel is actually a prince in his own right, and that this prince was actually the grandson of the old man Katsa rescued earlier. Katsa establishes a friendship with the prince, whose name we learn is Greening Grandemalion, although he likes to be called Po. We learn through Katsa’s budding relationship with Po that, although she is an independent and strong-willed young woman, she can also be brash and impulsive, often using violence to get her point across. This is particularly prevalent in one scene in which she strikes Po across the face after he disagrees with her and an argument develops.
Katsa then begins to reflect on her actions, re-thinking her upcoming mission for her lord to torture an innocent man, chosen because the man would not give up his daughter for marriage at the king's request. She refuses to go on this mission, and she is called to King Randa’s court for disobeying orders. Given the option to die or be exiled, she leaves with Po.
What follows are a few scenes of character development between Katsa and Po, in which Katsa slowly finds herself falling more deeply in love with the prince. During these scenes Katsa and Po decide to find out why his grandfather, the man who Katsa rescued, was stolen away in the first place.
Throughout their travels together, Katsa and Po find out that a king called Leck was responsible for the kidnapping of Po’s grandfather, and so Katsa and Po travel to Leck’s kingdom. In his kingdom they find a young woman named Bitterblue, who is the daughter of King Leck and is running from him because he killed her mother.
To give away any more of the story might spoil it for the reader. You'll have to delve into it and find out for yourself what happens.
Thoughts About the Novel
This is a really a great read, especially for someone who is looking for an introduction to the fantasy genre. I suggest as well that this novel be read by adults or young adults, rather than children. There are many violent scenes, and the book discusses sexual encounters and the like, although not graphically. If you are looking for a great book for children, I would suggest something along the lines of Silent Thunder: A Civil War Story.
However, as I believe this summary has shown, this novel is more than just cliché “warrior fantasy" tripe; indeed, it is an adventure-filled story full of unique, flawed characters. In short, it's an interesting fantasy novel that is suitable for a teenager. Give the book a chance and read it; you won't regret it.