Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.

When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

In the world of Graceling there are two distinct kinds of people - those that are graced and those that are not. The skills of the graced from what I have seen so far in this first book of Kristin Cashore's fantasy series are not as flamboyant or should I say obvious as what you would find in, for example, a comic book. There are no lasers shooting out of people's eyes, or tornado's being formed with a mere thought, the gracelings are what I would describe as unnaturally gifted. A normal person gifted in fighting would beat his or her opponent with almost ease, a person graced in fighting could have a broken arm, be faced off against five people and would still never lose a fight. The gracelings could be the most talented dancers, swimmers, runners, singers, weavers etc. or they could have far more dangerous talents.

Katsa's grace allowed her to kill a man when she was eight years old with one hand and from this moment on she has been used by her uncle, King Randa, to strike fear into the heart of anyone who wrongs him. This along with her particular grace has made others who have not even met Katsa fear her, and her upbringing has not made Katsa the most typical of noble ladies. Still, Katsa despite not seeing herself as anything more than a tyrant leads covert operations where she helps people who need it and more and more recently she is finding it much more difficult to carry out her uncle's orders. However, what really sets things off is while on a mission Katsa encounters a graced fighter who unexpectedly helps her unravel the peculiarities of her own grace as well as the shocking secrets of a foreign kingdom.

The story of Graceling for me was truly about not allowing yourself to be shaped by other people's predetermined thoughts of who you are and about being able to achieve anything as long as you never give up despite the odds. Graceling was also filled with such a diverse combination of awesome characters that ranged from brilliant to kick butt that I can’t wait to meet them again in Fire and Bitterblue.