It’s been a while since I read a book without checking reviews or looking it up on GoodReads. I saw this at my local thrift shop and picked it up because it sounded familiar (and I needed a couple of dollars more to reach $5). Having just finished a rather emotionally heavy book, I was in the mood for good ol’ fantasy. I closed my eyes, pointed at my shelf, and by the end of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, my finger was pointing to this book.
Next thing I knew, I was halfway through and loving it. (My brother then told me that he already read the whole trilogy and it was “good”.) The story was unique, the characters were well-developed, the world building was solid. The romance was nicely done and that’s something that is not so common in the YA genre. To be honest, nothing about this book really stood out and wow’d me out of my socks but I liked it enough that I now own the whole trilogy. In actual physical book form.
In this world, if your eyes are two different colors, you’re blessed with a “grace”. Heterochromia, basically. Mutant and proud. To families with Gracelings, this can be a joy and a curse. Once the child is confirmed to have two-colored eyes, he becomes property of the king. If his grace is useful to the king – graced with fighting skills, mind-reading, cooking, enhanced sight or hearing – he serves the crown and will never see his real family again. If the grace is deemed useless – prolonged breath-holding, fast tree-climbing, or if you don’t require to go to the bathroom for days – you are sent back to your family.
Katsa’s grace is killing. She is a “gifted killer”. She “accidentally” killed her cousin when he tried to touch her inappropriately when she was a child. She then develops her fighting abilities, becoming the best and most-feared fighter in the land. The mere mention of her blue-and-green eyes incites fear. And she happens to be the king’s niece. But instead of a loving relationship, he treats her like his guard dog, sending her out to kill for him. Or at least intimidate. Yet on the side, Katsa and her loyal party strive to undo those actions by doing good, helping out the people that the king himself persecutes. For once, ladies and gents, we don’t have a whiny female protagonist. Katsa starts out strong, yet you can see her vulnerability. Even with this “superpower” she’s still a girl with insecurities.
Then she meets Po, a graceling prince from another kingdom. He is also a good fighter but his grace is perception. Not exactly mind-reading. He would know that you’re there even before you announce your presence. It doesn’t sound that useful but paired with his fighting ability, it’s pretty awesome. And Po is quite amazing as well. I liked his relationship with Katsa; he never treated her as if she’s weaker. He respected her abilities and at times, bowed to it.
I can’t really talk about my favorite part of this book without spoiling you guys. It’s also the most questionable part but I really do love that twist. The different graces are interesting but it requires a certain level of suspension of disbelief. I mean, what if you’re an excellent swimmer but your eyes are both brown? I sort of get and don’t get how these graces work. (I had the same problem with the faction system in Divergent.) And oh, what if you got your grace wrong? Does that mean you’re just really, really good at one thing and it has nothing to do with your grace? An interesting concept but just… take it as it is.
I’m not sure if the following paragraph will be a spoiler but I’m warning you anyway and hiding it under a highlight/strikethrough.
To me, the character in this book with the most impressive and convincing grace is the antagonist, King Leck. It’s not something one can acquire through training or study. It’s not even genetic. It’s almost magic. Leck’s grace is so dangerous and could easily be used for evil. And he did exactly that.
Honestly, I don’t know what it is about this book. There’s nothing that really jumps up at me. I can’t name one thing that can convince you guys to run out and pick up this book. A lot of fantasy stories follow the same base storylines – set in a kingdom, they go on a journey, there’s an unlikely love interest. But I was so hooked. I flew through this book and immediately went online to hunt for the next two. As of the posting of this review, I’m halfway through Fire.
Rating: 4/5. This review was hard for me. I don’t know if it makes sense but at least I got it out of my system. It definitely put me in a reviewing slump. But don’t let that discourage you from reading this book, this trilogy.