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Lora Fountain SOLD: DEU/Carlsen, FRA/Hachette Jeuenesse, NDL/Moon DATE: April 15, 2008 Synopsis: Katsa’s one blue eye and one green eye mark her as a Graceling, one who possesses an extreme skill, or Grace. But as a Graced killer, she lives on the fringes of her uncle’s court and is charged with violently enforcing his whims. Po, a Graced fighter, brings her out of herself, and their close friendship reveals truths they never imagined about themselves, about each other, and about the unimaginable danger that is spreading slowly throughout the seven kingdoms. Notes: Set vaguely during medieval times in a land of 7 kingdoms where people can be born with a Grace, or heightened special ability. Called Gracelings, they are marked with two different colored eyes, and are put into the service of their respective kings. Royal courts are filled with Graced chefs, jugglers, swordsmen, etc; any “useless” Gracelings are turned out and sent home, where they are shunned and feared by society. Katsa is a Graceling in the court of her uncle, King Randa. At age 8, her Grace emerged after an older cousin made an unwelcome advance toward her: she hit him so hard the bones of his nose were pushed into his brain, and he died. Katsa is a Graced killer. Instead of banishing her, King Randa encourages Katsa to cultivate her talent. As she develops her skill and learns how to control it, he sends her throughout his kingdom to maim and kill anyone who acts against his interests. But Katsa is frustrated by Randa’s unwillingness to act against grave injustices that have no bearing on his financial state or status of his authority. With the help of Randa’s son, Raffin, Oll, his spymaster and Giddon, a Lord, Katsa forms a Council to distribute justice wherever it is needed. The kingdoms respond eagerly to the secret group, and the organization grows to enormous proportions. The latest mission of The Council has been the rescue of Prince Tealiff, the father of the Lienid king, who was being held secretly in the dungeons of King Murgon. They bring the Prince safely back to Randa, but do not know who kidnapped the old man, or why. During the rescue Katsa encountered Graced fighter, a Lienid (distinguishable because of their jewelry and lilting accents), that she left alive, in spite of her better instincts. When she returns to Randa, the same Lienid is waiting around Randa’s court: he’s the grandson of Prince Tealiff. The Lienid presses her for information about his grandfather, she refuses and they fight. For the first time in her life, Katsa is in an evenly-matched fight and finds herself enjoying it. By the end, they both are laughing and Katsa agrees to take Po, the Lienid, to his grandfather. As The Council continues to investigate the kidnapping of Prince Tealiff, Po stays on at Randa to train with Katsa and the two spend nearly all of their time together. When King Randa prepares to send Katsa out on another task to torture and kill, for the first time she finds herself resisting the savage role
she’s being ordered to assume. Po encourages Katsa to think for herself and consider the power she contains: what would really happen to her, a Graced killer, if she refused to obey Randa? Katsa decides she cannot go through with Randa’s latest task and insists to Lord Giddon and Oll, who are assigned to accompany her, that she alone be held completely responsible. In an attempt to protect her, Giddon proposes to Katsa, reasoning that perhaps news of her engagement will lessen the King’s rage. She refuses, and Giddon’s angry reply causes something to click in her head: Po isn’t a Graced fighter, he’s a Graced mind reader - they’ve all been tricked. Katsa returns enraged, and even as Po asks her to understand that he’s kept his true Grace a secret in order to protect himself from being exploited, she feels horribly betrayed. King Randa is furious with Katsa’s insubordination; when she is called before him to account for her disobedience, it takes everything in her power to stop herself from murdering him. Instead, she announces she’s through killing for him and is leaving his court and kingdom. The next morning, she leaves with Po as he continues to investigate the kidnapping of his grandfather. As they travel, Katsa grows used to Po’s telepathic abilities and they begin to communicate mentally. They gradually become as close as they were before…then closer. Suddenly, it becomes clear in a flash to Katsa: they’re in love. The revelation terrifies her: she has no desire to marry or have children, and fears losing an essential part of who she is in giving herself to another. But Po is content to be with Katsa any way she’ll have him; he doesn’t want to change her or force her into a marriage. Just as they are perfectly matched as sparring partners, the pair is equally matched as lovers. Having left behind her life as a contract killer, she relaxes and comes to realize that her true Grace is not just the ability to kill, it is Survival: she can always start a fire, find something to eat, she never tires or feels cold and can defend herself in any situation. A group of merchants, hasty to claim the innocence of King Leck of Monsea in relation to the kidnapping of Prince Tealiff, causes Katsa and Po to journey exactly there to investigate. Something about the men seems off in Po’s telepathic reading of them, just as something is not quite right about how Leck came to power: as a one-eyed orphan, he charmed the childless King and Queen who named him as heir. Once the ruling couple went public with the news and Leck was accepted as descendent, the King, Queen and their advisors all died of a mysterious illness shortly thereafter. But throughout the 7 kingdoms, no one is as beloved as King Leck. Katsa and Po begin to wonder if Leck is a Graceling, and what form his Grace might take. Po has been getting increasingly tense as they near Monsea. When they approach the town, they encounter a Lienid woman being mown down by King Leck and his soldiers. As Leck is murdering the woman, he screams “oh, what an accident.” Po tells Katsa to shoot the king, but she can’t: in spite of what her eyes are telling her, she completely believes everything Leck is saying. Po covers her ears and they run into the woods, fleeing the King and soldiers who are now chasing them. As Katsa tries to clear her head, Po explains what she is unable to remember: they witnessed Leck killing his wife, Ashen (who also is Po’s aunt). Leck’s Grace is to take away a person’s own thoughts, and replace them with whatever he wills. Having witnessed Leck murdering his own queen, and having been seen running away “when they shouldn’t have had the slightest idea of their danger,” Po and Katsa must race against Leck to find Ashen’s daughter, Bitterblue, who is also hiding in the woods. After some tense moments, they find and coax her from her hiding place. As the three of them find a safe place to camp, Bitterblue comes out of her shell and begins to tell of her father’s cruelty. He gains pleasure from torturing animals and
children. When his wife refused Leck’s demands to see his daughter alone, he had her father, Prince Tealiff kidnapped. Once the old man was transported to Monsea, Leck planned to torture him in front of Ashen until she handed over Bitterblue. Katsa and Po witnessed the Queen’s final attempt to save her daughter. Po decides to try and kill the King from a distance; he is no match for Leck’s inner guard, who are all Graced fighters, and Katsa is too vulnerable to Leck’s silver tongue to be of help. Though she doesn’t like this plan, Katsa has no choice but to accept it, along with the ring Po gives her that will ensure her safe passage with Bitterblue to his castle in Lienid if he doesn’t return. After a tense day, Po returns to camp gravely wounded on a nearly-dead horse that slips just as it reaches the narrow path to the camp. Po and the horse both go tumbling into the river below. Katsa dives in, saves Po from drowning, and dresses the wound as best as she can, but his head has been damaged from hitting the water. Even so, he manages to communicate that the king still lives; Katsa gathers them all together and they flee. Po’s injuries slow their progress, and he insists that they leave him behind to ensure their escape. Katsa is reluctant, but Po gently reminds her that their efforts in Monsea will be for nothing if Leck captures them all. They find a hiding place for Po, and Katsa outfits him as best as can before wrenching herself away. Faced with the duty of smuggling Bitterblue safely out of Monsea, Katsa decides they will pass through the mountains rather than risk trying the ports or border towns, which are sure to be crawling with Leck’s men. Grella’s Pass is notoriously treacherous, and is named after the only known man to have attempted to cross it (who died doing so). With winter coming on, she and Bitterblue do their best to climb as quickly as possible. Frozen and starved, they reach the pass after weeks of hiking; Katsa slings the child around her, and runs for it. They barely survive the freezing temperatures of the mountainside, but, fingers and toes somehow still intact they reach the other side and find shelter with a Council member. Katsa and Bitterblue then board a Lienid ship headed by Captain Faun, a female Graceling. When Katsa reveals Po’s ring, chaos erupts: the ring that he promised would guarantee their safe journey also signifies Po’s abdication of his land and title –unwillingly, Katsa is now a Lienid Princess. Captain Faun brings them safely to Po’s castle, only to discover that Leck is waiting for them. Po’s entire family has been charmed into believing Leck is their prince, and Katsa is unable to stop herself from becoming entranced as well. But even within her haze, she senses that Leck is not to be trusted, and as he tries to get Katsa to hand over Bitterblue to him and reveal if Po still lives, something inside Katsa snaps and the Graceling killer in her attacks. After Katsa kills Leck, everyone’s heads clear and Po’s family tries to piece together everything that occurred. Katsa is eager to return to Monsea and collect Po, and Bitterblue and much of Po’s family insist on coming along. Po’s father is instrumental in directing their arrival in Monsea: an experienced King, he explains the shocking truth of Leck’s rule to the people of Monsea and presents Bitterblue as their new and rightful Queen. They find Po just where Katsa left him, but he’s not himself. He tells Katsa he doesn’t want to return home, and things are strained between them. After a few days, she realizes that Po has gone blind as a result of his injuries. Though his Grace can show him the outline and form of things, he can no longer
truly see. Together, in secret, they develop the sensitivity of his Grace until Po is completely “sighted” again. The book closes with Bitterblue’s coronation, and Po’s return to Lienid. Katsa has decided to teach girls fighting skills in each of the 7 kingdoms, starting in Monsea with Bitterblue’s subjects. She will teach in Lienid next, but not before she resolves things with King Randa… Comments: Lora Fountain is absolutely right – GRACELING is wonderful: the writing is strong, the romance well-developed and the adventure engaging. I found the concept of Graces to be highly original, and its explanation clear. Though Katsa’s “tough girl” bravado is a slight cliché, it works since being an actual killer is her public identity. I am a sucker for strong female protagonists, and Katsa did not disappoint. Though her and Po’s decision to be lovers instead of getting married is unrealistic, I found myself cheering their innovative solution and was further heartened to find Katsa’s fierce independent streak as strong as ever even after she falls in love. This title has been generating a lot of interest and I expect to see several more territories sold post-LBF. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s initial print run is to be 75,000 copies, and already there are some neat marketing schemes in place – with galleys to booksellers, they included a quiz that told readers what their Grace was and which character they were most like. I highly recommend you take a look if you’re looking to add a new fantasy series to your list.