If any of you are close to me, you'll know that I've been raving about GRACELING all weekend. I met Kristin Cashore at a conference, and of course felt that I had to read her book before she gave her keynote speech--which was wonderful. It is all about the complexity of words, and how growing up and dealing with your identity is complex because the words we describe ourselves and the world are complex.
In the world of GRACELING, a biological mutation exists in some people, giving them a superior power or skill. These people are called Gracelings, and the skill can range from being able to predict the weather or swimming like a fish. Katsa's Grace just happens to be murder.
And thus, her uncle the king has made her his thug. What great use a killing machine can be when you're trying to bully others and reinforce your power? Yet Katsa, physically indomitable, is morally conflicted, and full of contradictions. She has had this identity of a bully thrust upon her since the age of 8, when she accidentally murdered her relative with her bare hands. Katsa spends the length of the book breaking free of this identity and discovering just what hers is.
I loved GRACELING. Katsa, though powerful, struggles with the same sort of identity issues all girls have. She's fiercely independent, but still wants to be loved. She's capable of amazing tenderness but doesn't want children (yet). She believes that marrying will pidgeonhole her into a constraining societal definition of 'wife'. And can I mention there's an awesome male lead? (Po is mine, sorry girls) This is Kristin Cashore's first book, so some readers might notice some newbie mistakes. But one thing Cashore got fabulously right was characterization.
And after you read GRACELING, pick up FIRE, the companion novel that just got released today. I finished it already, and it's also wonderful!