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Graceling    by Kristin Cashore order for
by Kristin Cashore
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2008 (2008)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Kristin Cashore opens a new and unusual YA fantasy series in her debut novel, Graceling. It's set in a land of seven kingdoms, in the majority of which most children born with a Grace (a unique power, such as fighting skills or the ability to read minds) are feared and shunned, despite the fact that many Graces are benign.

The killing Grace of Katsa, niece to King Randa of the Middluns, erupted when she was eight years old and lashed out at a pedophile who was a distant cousin. Since that time, Randa has exploited Katsa's ability to punish anyone who earns his ire. But despite being raised to see herself as nothing more than the king's thug - and ashamed of what she's done in the royal service - Katsa has had the courage to establish a resistance movement, the Council, that quickly spread throughout the realms. Helping her with it are Randa's spymaster, captain Oll; Randa's underlord Giddon; and Katsa's cousin and best friend, bookish herbalist Prince Raffin.

It's on a Council mission that Katsa meets Prince Po, youngest son of the king of Lienid (an island), and with a unique Grace of his own that's a well kept secret even within his own family. After Katsa rescues Po's grandfather Tealiff from a kidnapping and secretly hides the frail old man in Middluns, Po follows her there and they become close (Po's strong fighting skill allows him to almost match Katsa in sparring). Working together to learn why Tealiff was kidnapped, they begin to suspect Leck, king of Monsea (which is isolated from the other kingdoms by mountains). Leck, married to Po's aunt Ashen, is reputed to be a kind man.

What follows embroils Katsa and Po in a perilous mission. Along the way, Katsa discover Po's secret - and feels betrayed by her new friend - but also learns that there's more to her own Grace than she previously understood. She needs to stretch all her talents to survive what follows and to save those under her protection. Graceling is an exciting start to a new series with strong potential and engagingly vulnerable leads in an unusual relationship. I look forward to more.

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