This book knows its target audience well. With a plot involving adventures to far-off lands, castles, princes, intrigue, romance, and just the right amount of fantasy, the story is bound to capture the hearts of teenaged girls everywhere. I know it would have if I had read this when I was 18 or so. Even older readers looking for romance with a strong plot will like this book.
Cashore conjures a world where people with different colored eyes** are said to be Graced,
meaning they possess a unique or heightened ability such as archery, navigation, and so on. The main character Katsa has the grace of killing, which is both a blessing and a curse. She is unbeatable at all forms of fighting, but her grace also means that she is known and feared/hated throughout the land, especially since her uncle King Randa is using her to bully and intimidate anyone who opposes him. She detests this but feels helpless against her uncle. She also feels extreme hate for herself, thinks she is nothing but a killing machine, vows to be close to no one, and never marry and bear children.
Enter Po, another Graceling prince from the far-off kingdom of Lienid. He claims his grace is fighting, and is the only opponent Katsa considers an equal match. Little by little he helps Katsa open up and see her worth. Po is portrayed as laid-back, good-natured, and handsome. I'm sure a lot of readers fell in love with him. I know I did. He's my favorite character in the book.
What starts out as a secret investigation involving a kidnapping develops into a long and dangerous journey complete with unpassable mountains and chases by the royal guard. Along the way Katsa and Po get to know more about each other, break down the walls around their hearts, and invariably fall in love.
Cashore's writing style is nothing to rave about, but it's clear and conveys the story well. She is MUCH better than Stephenie Meyer. I did not find myself rolling my eyes at the romantic developments, so she is good at moderation in romance, even in the (non-explicit) love scenes. Po and Katsa's relationship is believable.
The adventure across kingdoms over land and sea was enjoyable, but there were numerous loose ends. The antagonist's motives were never made clear. Nothing more was heard about King Randa. Po's and Katsa's futures remained unclear, and there were hints about the true nature of Katsa's grace but they remained a mystery. But it was a good romp for its genre so I give it 4 stars.** Random thought: Count D of Pet Shop of Horrors would fit right into this world with his purple-and-gold eyes. Of course, his Grace would be talking to animals XD