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Kristin Cashore
Harcourt, 472 pages

Kristin Cashore
Kristin Cashore has written for The Horn Book Guide, The Looking Glass: An Online Children's Literature Journal, and Children's Literature in Education. She received a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons College. She lives in Jacksonville, Florida. Graceling is her first novel.

Kristin Cashore Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Tammy Moore

In the Seven Kingdoms, the Graced are viewed with fear and suspicion. Marked out from their fellow citizens by their mismatched eyes they are gifted, or Graced, with supernatural skills. Some can read minds or predict the future, others are fighters that no Ungraced warrior could touch. Katsa is Graced with killing.

She killed her first man when she was only eight years old -- an explosion of deadly violence that shocked her as much as any -- and since then she has been King Randa of Middlun's blunt weapon, let off her leash only to kill and maim those who oppose his wishes. What more could someone whose only talent was killing want?

More than Randa would ever be willing to give her.

Sickened by the violence Randa commissions from her, Katsa uses her Grace to protect and avenge those below Randa's notice. It was just such a mission that brought her to Sunder, seeking to rescue a kidnapped old man from the dungeons of the city. But the old man was a Prince of Lienid and his theft from his peaceful island home was part of something far larger, far worse. Something that stretches its dark tentacles all the way to the mountainous kingdom of kind King Leck and his precocious daughter, Bitterblue.

To find out the truth, and to protect Bitterblue from the dangers that stalk her, Katsa must abandon everything she knows, about her world, herself and her Grace, and trust the secretive Lienid Prince, Po, to guide her true.

Graceling is Kristin Cashore's debut novel and is a fun, well-written fantasy novel that is suitable for either Young Adults or Adults. A statement that doesn't quite do Graceling justice; I adored this book. The writing and the world created were solid, the idea of Grace both sufficiently explained to satisfy the reader and sufficiently nebulous for the plot's sake and the physical and political geography of the seven kingdoms well laid out. It's the characters, however, that really shine. Katsa, Raffin, Po, Olls and Giddon were all complex, convincing people, heroic but never perfect, and Kashore never makes a wrong step in her characterisation of them. No one character ever shines at the expense of another. The main characters all get to save the day in their own way and in a way that only they could do it. It's actually tremendously satisfying to read.

Cashore also created a truly creepy and terrifying villain -- you'll have to read it yourself to find out who he is -- whose influence is a subtle taint throughout the novel, although he is actually seen rarely. He is much a dark mystery to the reader as to the characters themselves; what little we know of his deeds is conveyed by hints, rumours and second-hand testimony. This serves to obscure his motivations and the reach of his power, as well as casting the exact nature of his perversities into shadow. For younger readers his obvious cruelties are enough to justify him as a villain, leaving more mature readers to speculate on the exact nature of cruelties the witnesses do not themselves do not fully understand or wish to verbalise.

I would -- and have -- strongly recommended Graceling. Katsa is a fierce, indomitable young heroine who is allowed to be truly heroic on her own merits, while the gentler Po provides his own strength of mind and will to aid and support her. Last of all is the Princess Bitterblue, who could so easily have been a sketched in damsel in distress. Instead she is a vivid character in her own right: strong-willed, stubborn and just as much a hero as the Graced characters. The story itself is solidly told and touched with both beautiful moments and deeply creepy and disturbing ones. Cashore draws you into the story, making you care about the characters, and I was frequently on the edge of my seat to see what happened next.

Copyright © 2009 Tammy Moore

Tammy Moore is a speculative fiction writer based in Belfast. She writes reviews for Verbal Magazine, Crime Scene NI and Green Man Review. Her first book The Even -- written by Tammy Moore and illustrated by Stephanie Law -- is to be published by Morrigan Books September 2008.

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