My best friend Abi bought me this book for my birthday with the promise that I’d love it. She’s really into Fantasy books, and I’m always looking to discover genres that I’ve never tried before, so I was looking forward to this. The quote on the front which said it was an “exquisitely drawn romance that would slake the thirst of Twilight fans” had me a bit worried about the writing, because as much as I liked the Twilight books the first time I read them, Stephanie Meyer isn’t exactly the highlight of young adult fiction.
But I knew I should never have doubted Abi, because this book was great. The main character is a young girl called Katsa, who possess a skill called a grace, hers seems to be a grace for fighting. She discovered this at 8 years old when she accidentally killed a man. Obviously, people treat her a little differently after this happens, none more so than her Uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, one of the 7 regions. Even though he is her Uncle, he’s not a nice man, and decides to use her to punish those of his subjects that have wronged him, one example being a man who chopped down more trees than he should have. Katsa is sent to break his arm or remove one of his fingers as payment, but she can’t do it, she no longer wants to use her grace to do her Uncle’s bidding.
Katsa has decided that she can’t do it anymore and she’s formed a ‘council’ determined to do right. The book opened with Katsa on a council mission to rescue an old man kidnapped by the King of one of the other regions. While she’s rescuing this man (and using her grace to fight off all the soldiers and guards), she meets a young man named Po who she realises also has a powerful grace.
He turns up at Katsa’s castle looking for his grandfather, who just so happens to be the old man that Katsa has rescued. She eventually comes to trust Po and they leave the castle in an attempt to find out why Prince Tealiff was kidnapped. On this journey, they figure out that the truth is more horrible than they thought, and there are many dramatic points in the story when you’re not sure exactly how they are going to escape from the trouble they’ve landed themselves in, especially when they run into King Leck, who they have realised has a grace for making people believe whatever he wants. He has killed his wife in front of his daughter’s eyes and she is running away from him when Katsa is almost pulled under by his grace. Thankfully, Po is immune to Leck’s grace due to his own and he manages to get them both away from danger, but they now have charge of a young Princess and need to get her to safety.
Throughout their journey, they realise that their graces may not have been entirely what they thought, both helping each other to discover their full potential. They also can’t deny the romance between them, especially with Katsa falling into his silver and gold eyes every time he looks at her. But the strength of their relationship helps them on their journey, until Po is gravely hurt and they realise that Katsa will have to go on without him to save Princess Bitterblue and keep her safe from her evil Father.
My favourite part of the book was the ending. A lot of the time with stories like this where the drama builds up and the tension increases, the ending often seems quite rushed. But without giving away too many spoilers, the ending of the book was perfectly written. Katsa wraps up her mission and then returns to try and find Po. And while the ending may be happy, its also bittersweet as we learn about the terrible things that have happened while Katsa has been away.
I loved the romance in the book, but the best part was that it wasn’t overdone. There wasn’t any of the “I can’t live without him“, “I can’t stop thinking about him“, “My life has ended because he’s not here” type of thinking like there is in other books (*ahem* Twilight *ahem*), but Katsa remains independent and strong and free-willed. And she doesn’t fall immediately into his arms when she meets him either. She’s wary of him until she knows who he is,why he’s there, and that she can trust him with his grace for reading her mind. It was nice to have a strong female lead character capable of holding herself up and who was actually (because of her grace) stronger than her leading man. And for Po to be completely okay with the fact that he can be beaten was brilliant, not just a typical ‘macho strong man’, he complemented Katsa perfectly.
I thought this was a brilliant debut novel by Kristin Cashore, and I’m very glad that Abi bought me her next book too – I can’t wait to read it!