Sunday, April 17, 2011

An Astounding Debut

by Kristin Cashore
Morris Debut finalist 2009

With her mismatched eyes, Katsa unnerves everyone in her uncle's court. The eyes are a symbol of her status as a Graceling, one who has an exceptional ability...and hers just happens to be killing and torture. Or at least that's what she believes, as she's employed as a glorified thug by her uncle, King Randa.

While participating in a rescue mission of a kidnapped Lienid noble, Katsa has a chance encounter with another Graceling, the Lienid Prince Po, so-called because of his gold and silver eyes. He later comes to Randa's court in the hope of gathering more information about the perpetrator of his grandfather's kidnapping, and while combat training with Katsa, the two become close friends.

Eventually, evidence leads the two to the kingdom of Monsea, where Po's aunt is queen to the mad King Leck, whose Grace enables him to cloud the thoughts of others and to make lies seem to be reality with only his words. Katsa is put to the test protecting the princess from her father and his soldiers while struggling to remember the truth of her quest.

When reading a debut novel, one can usually tell. The characters might not be as fleshed out as one might like, or there will be unfinished plot holes. This is not the case, however, with Ms. Cashore's fully realized debut. It is apparent from the first chapter that much time and thought has been put into both the pacing of the plot and character development. The characters, especially Katsa, are very believably written and, even more importantly, likable. Katsa, with her fear of losing her identity should she marry, reminded me of both Alanna from the Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce and Oscar from the 70s manga series Rose of Versailles, so fans of those series (and strong female characters, in general) should definitely check this book out.

I only have one qualm with this novel, and it's a rather minor, stylistic thing. There appear to me a number of phrases and fragments in some more action-oriented scenes, and I realize this is probably to heighten the dramatic effect, but it irritated me a bit. For example, "His boot was caught in a stirrup. The stirrup buckled to the saddle, and the horse sinking fast." The sentence still would have been dramatic had it followed standard conventions and been written thus: His boot was caught in a stirrup, which was buckled to the saddle, and the horse was sinking fast. This didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the book, but it was something I noticed rather frequently and could have done without.

When I reached the end of the book, I was sad to see it end. I had grown attached to the characters as I might those in a lengthy series, and I wanted very much to hear more of their stories. This, to me, is the mark of a true storyteller. I am certainly planning on reading the prequel, Fire, but I am most looking forward to the sequel Bitterblue, as well as anything else graced by Ms. Cashore's pen.

Grade: A

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