Post number forty-seven is for Kristin Cashore's Graceling, which was another required reading title for my Fantasy Lit course (this week's theme was heroines). This was another title recommended by a friend, and while I thought the book started slowly – I'll mention more about the reasons for this below, under the spoiler space – it picked up and I ended up liking it more than The Hunger Games, which was recommended by the same person.
Brief thoughts are below, including some plot spoilers in terms of the set-up for this world.
So in this world, there are people born with a Grace: a special ability that allows them to do whatever their Grace is really well. (Not everyone is Graced, btw, and a lot of the people are scared of people who are.) An example would be a Graced swimmer (swims like a fish) or a Graced archer (really good with a bow), etc. The main character – the heroine, in this case – is Katsa, and Katsa is thought to have been Graced with killing, although we learn that's not really what her Grace is at all. Katsa is the niece of a King who likes to use her ability to his advantage; he calls her his "Lady Killer" and sends her out to "solve" disputes with others, whether that's torturing the person a bit or outright killing them. Katsa, however, has her own underground spy network – her way of rebelling against the King – and she and her circle help people in need. It's during one of these missions that she meets the book's other main character, Po, who is also Graced, although, again, we don't learn what his actual Grace is until later. There's way more to the plot than this, but Po and Katsa's Graces are huge factors throughout the book, and I will say that Po's is kind of cool, although it could easily be overwhelming (and is, in the end).
I really liked the build-up of Katsa and Po's relationship, from the first agreement to train together, to Katsa's realization that she's friends with him, to their eventual romance. One thing I wish that had been explained a bit better was Katsa's intial reaction to Po's true Grace; is it just the fact that she has so little to herself that makes her abhor anyone who can read minds (which Po can't actually do, so I'm not spoiling what his Grace is)? I wish we'd learned explicitly why it was that she reacted so strongly when he told her.
Also, there's the whole absurd idea that she can't ever marry anyone because she doesn't want to tie herself to anyone (that's not the crazy part), because then her freedom won't be hers, it will be a gift from someone else. Marrying someone doesn't mean your independence leaves you, although I suppose in a world where the woman because the "lady of the manor" or whatever there would be societal implications and pressures on you, but regarding Po specifically, he would never NEVER force her to do anything or be anything she didn't want to be, and while yes, I suppose that's a bit of a freedom he's granting her, it's sort of just obvious that he would never do anything to take it away; it's not like he's offering her something that he's later going to pull back from her, you know? I don't know. I'm having trouble putting my feelings on that into words.
There are other things I want to mention but I feel like they would be too spoilery to put here even with the spoiler space – I don't want to give away the ending, or destroy the plot for anyone who picks this book up to read it after reading this, so suffice it to say, I enjoyed this book even though the necessary world-building at the beginning felt a little slow to me. It was worth a read, at any rate!