Kristin Cashore’s debut fantasy novel, Graceling, explores the interplay between power and morality. As the book begins, Katsa, the main character, is in the process of breaking into a dungeon. She and two friends rescue a captive, an old man who is a member of the royal family on a faraway island called Leinid.

Graceling’s fantasy world is divided into seven kingdoms, most of which are ruled by corrupt kings. Katsa and her friends—Oll, Raffin, and Giddon—secretly lead a group they call the Council. Through the Council, they work to combat the unfairness and corruption of the kings. Publicly, however, they serve Katsa’s uncle, King Randa, who is partially responsible for making their world such a difficult and corrupt place.

Katsa is an important tool for both King Randa and the Council. She was born with a rare gift called a Grace. “Gracelings,” as people with Graces are called, have talents that surpass normal human abilities. Graces can affect many different abilities, from cooking to mind reading. Gracelings have two differently colored eyes, which makes them easy to spot, and they are considered unnatural. Ordinary people fear them. People are more afraid of Katsa than most because Katsa’s Grace gives her an extraordinary ability to kill.

Like most Gracelings, Katsa is considered the property of her king. Since Katsa was a child, King Randa has forced her to act as his personal thug, killing or torturing anyone who defies him. Because of this, Katsa has convinced herself that she is a horrible monster. She enjoys her good work with the Council but it does little to improve her self-image.

Katsa’s life changes when Prince Greening of Leinid, whom she soon learns to call by his nickname, Po, comes to Randa’s court. Po is searching for his grandfather, the captive Katsa and her Council rescued. Katsa quickly begins to fall in love with Po, but she fights this feeling. For Katsa, tender feelings are bewildering and unpleasant because they conflict with her desire for ultimate control over her own life.

Katsa is further confused when she realizes that Po, who is Graced, has lied about the nature of his Grace. His special power is not fighting, as everyone believes, but a kind of mind reading. He can sense anyone around him and also understand their feelings about him. When Katsa first learns that Po...

(The entire section is 968 words.)