From the front inside flap of the dust jacket:
In a world where people born with an extreme skill--called a Grace--are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him.
When she first meets Prince Po, who is 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.
First off, I would like to say that the plot development in Kristin Cashore's Graceling is excellent. Each event, each character, each action, each line of dialogue - everything fits together beautifully to form the story. And there was nothing extra, wasted, or unnecessary. Furthermore, I was thoroughly entertained by the story. Katsa and Po's great adventure, the mystery they have to solve concerning the kidnapping of Po's grandfather, is always exciting and never predictable. In fact, I was genuinely surprised (in a good way) by some of the events in the story.
Then there is eighteen-year-old Katsa herself. Wow. She is so fast and strong physically because of training and because of her Grace. She's also real smart, resourceful, and truly independent. In fact, Katsa plans to never marry because even if she has her freedom in a marriage, it would be a gift from her husband, something he could take away. The freedom wouldn't really be her own because it wouldn't come from her. Katsa has a good heart too. She leads a Council that goes on secret missions to help victims in the different kingdoms.
Katsa is truly amazing, but she still has her weaknesses and she develops quite nicely in the novel. I am happy that young readers have another female protagonist they can admire and even look up to.
There is a fascinating love story between Katsa and Po. Katsa has met her match in Po, the handsome, intelligent, and confident Prince of Lienid with the Grace of fighting. At first, Po infuriates Katsa and she can't stand him. But they become friends and fall deeply in love. As friends and then as lovers, Katsa and Po are equals and they give each other true freedom. It's been quite some time since I've read a fictional couple that has impressed me. And yes, their relationship has its realistic fights, tensions, and misunderstandings.
Graceling has two companion books coming out: Fire, which takes place thirty years before Graceling, and Bitterblue, which takes place six years after Graceling. I am interested in these companion books and will probably read them out of curiosity, but I am not DYING to read them - as I sometimes am with some books. Why not? I was not captured by the world in Graceling. I was not drawn into its world of seven kingdoms and magical talents known as Graces. I found the worldbuilding lacking. There wasn't a lot of background on the seven kingdoms or on the Graces, and any information about the kingdoms or Graces that was given was neither satisfying nor compelling. I feel that in a fantasy novel it is important for the reader to be drawn into the fantasy world and this experience just didn't happen for me while reading Graceling.
Nevertheless, I recommend Graceling because of its interesting plot, interesting characters, and interesting romance. It's a teen fantasy novel you will enjoy. :o)