Another teen read, though pure fantasy this time, Graceling is a solid debut novel. Interesting characters, a land split into 7 kingdoms which, while not at war are also not all friends, politically speaking, and a kidnapping case that propels the protagonist, a young woman 'graced' with the ability to kill easily, on the road to solve the mystery of why an old man, of no political worth, would be kidnapped and by whom.
Cashore's use of people with different coloured eyes as signs of special powers (some powers more useful than others) was very well done. And Katsa, the King's strongman, occasional torturer and executioner, was a compelling character.
The book begins with Katsa helping to free the father of Lienid's king from King Murgon's prison. Intelligence suggests that while Murgon was holding Grandfather Tealiff, he wasn't the one who ordered the kidnapping. While fleeing, Katsa encounters Tealiff's grandson, Prince Po, who later becomes her sparring partner back home.
The novel as a whole deals with power. The power to order others to act, the power to choose your own actions - and whether you will obey the orders you disagree with, and the power to protect yourself from others. This is demonstrated by three levels of people. 1) The kings, 2) those like Katsa who are at the mercy of rulers but have the ability to physically defend themselves and 3) those who are untrained and ultimately at the mercy of others.
I found the first part of the book interesting and fast paced. The second part dragged a bit as the story focused less on the plot and more on the growth of Katsa as a person. It then picked up as Katsa and Po discover who ordered the kidnapping and the danger this person poses to all 7 kingdoms if they can't stop him.
All in all a great read. I'm already into my ARC of the prequel, Fire, out in hardcover October 6th.