Sarah's Stars

Kristin Cashore. Graceling
Harcourt $17.00  ISBN 978-0-15-206396-2  480 pg.
Reviewed by Lindsey, Age 14

Tears came to her eyes. Mercy was more frightening than murder, because it was harder, and Randa didn't deserve it. And even though she wanted what the voice wanted, she didn't think she had the courage for it.

Imagine a world where a select few people are "graced" with an amazing skill. It could be anything from the art of war to the art of cooking to something trivial like climbing trees. In an extraordinary land of seven distinct kingdoms, two characters are about to meet their matches. Meet Katsa, graced with the art of killing, she is wild and fierce and fed up with being a corrupt king's instrument of torture. And then there's Po, the kindly prince of a flourishing kingdom, who is graced with the art of fighting. But the handsome young man also harbours a huge and dangerous secret. Physically, the two characters are evenly matched which leads Katsa to enjoy a fight for once, because she actually has to try (which is no small feat considering she can kill a man with her bare hands in hundreds of different ways). Actually, I lied. She can kill hundreds of men with her bare hands, all in the time frame of a few minutes.

But as the two train together, they also manage to fall in love. Headstrong Katsa grudgingly agrees to a makeshift relationship with Po but soon all their plans are thrown into jeopardy when they are forced to embark on a quest to save the young Princess Bitterblue from her father, King Leck. The eerie man is graced with the ability to deceive people and while most of the world thinks he is a good, kind and gentle man, a few see him for what he really is: a sadistic king with a desire to harm innocent creatures and people. As the tiring adventure leads from one end of the land to the other and Po and Katsa are forced to separate, the battle for Princess Bitterblue turns from uncomprehendingly dangerous to downright ugly. Will Katsa and Po have the strength to save the seven kingdoms from King Leck? And even if they do, will they survive for each other?

I know, I know, the above description sounds like an off-kilter soap opera, but from the moment Graceling begins, we are invited into a rich tapestry of a medieval land of subtle magic, wonderful characters and a grand fantasy quest. I plowed through the book in a smattering of hours and was pleasantly surprised by the wide scope of events in the story. It reads like a condensed epic, with a whirlwind romance, a dangerous bad guy and of course, our headstrong lady-killer. There were many similarities to a lot of Tamora Pierce's work but it reads more like homage to Ms. Pierce and not a direct rip-off. As far as I can see, the coincidences were just that, coincidences. Katsa and Po themselves are not your typical couple. The surprising twist at the end throws the fate of the next book into the shadows and as far as what I believe is going to surpass in the next installment of Katsa's adventures, I really couldn't tell you. All I know is that Graceling's fast-paced action scenes, dynamic characters and vivid imagery had me enthralled and left me excited for a sequel.

I give Kristin Cashore's Graceling four and a half out of five stars.

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