This review is full of spoilers. Sorry. And foul language. Also sorry.
Gracelings are people who have a special ability, and they are identified by having two different colored eyes. Someone could have a Grace for cooking, or swimming, or dancing. Katsa learns at a very young age that she has the Grace of killing. So her uncle, King Randa, uses her as his personal executioner, starting from when she is just 10 years old. As she gets older and more of a mind of her own, Katsa forms a Council which goes around trying to mitigate the horrible actions of the kings of the world. Our story begins with Katsa on a mission for the Council to rescue the grandfather of the Lienid people, who has been kidnapped.
Katsa is very focused on what she has to do at any point in time, and is not very good in social situations. She trains all the time, and can kill or injure a man in any number of ways. But almost everyone is afraid of her, so she never really got a chance to build social skills. She can also be very selfish in her viewpoint, and doesn’t often look at things from someone else’s perspective. There are times I’m reminded of certain elements of someone on the spectrum. (I don’t know, maybe that’s just me.) She changes and grows as a character as the book progresses and she learns a lot as she spends time with people who are not afraid of her and are not afraid to interact with her.
And now, my thoughts as I was reading (well, listening)…
Man, her friends in the beginning of the book are assholes.
Katsa seems like the kind of person who is so wrapped up in duty and their work that they can’t find any joy in life or have any fun. I kind of hope the other Graceling character (Po) gets her to loosen up a bit. I also think he could be a romantic figure, otherwise her other option is her cousin the prince (Prince Raffin), and that’s a little too closely related for my comfort. (Note: the prince has a science bro, Bann, only for medications and potions instead of technology. Raffin is the Tony Stark to his Bann’s Bruce Banner. I ship it.)
*spoilers* Update: the other Graceling character, Po, is indeed the romantic figure. Which is okay for a while, until she realizes this. Then she goes on for about a half hour in the audio book on how she wants him, but she can’t have him, because she doesn’t want to marry anyone. She doesn’t want to be tied to anyone, and if she were married then she wouldn’t be free anymore or some nonsense like that. My response: you could just be f*cking. I actually said that out loud about 6 times during her wishy-washy internal rant. Po’s eventual response: “Well, we could just f*ck.” But he says it all poetically and stuff. (At one point, the narrator says a line about how Katsa has made her choice or something, and it’s SUPER CREEPY. Like man-in-a-white-van-offering-candy creepy. And you can hear his side eye. It’s very uncomfortable. Also, this dude sounds like a dad or uncle or something, and I don’t really feel altogether comfortable hearing him describe their sexy-times. I’m sure it seems poetic or something on the page, but listening to him is just awkward. And I feel bad, because he’s trying, the poor guy.) And the whole romance thing seems to take a disproportionate amount of time. There’s mysteries to unravel, people! We got places to be! We also spend a lot of time travelling in the woods.
So we meet Po’s dad, King Ror, and I kinda like him. He gives Katsa shit at one point for being dumb, and there is an unsaid “young lady” in there. He’s yelling at her like a dad, which she’s never really had before, and it’s kind of awesome.
So I’ll probably pick up the sequel to this, Bitterblue, but I don’t think I’ll read the other book in the series, Fire. It takes place in a different area of the world a few years before Graceling, and the two storylines share one character. I snooped about to see who it was (they try to make it all secretive) and I found a synopsis, and it’s confusing af. No thank you.