Cashore, Kristin. Graceling. Orlando: Houghton Mifflin, 2008.
Occasionally a child is born who develops two different colored eyes. These children, the Graced, are immediately given to the king as his property, as each Graced child will exhibit a different talent or special gift. Those whose gifts are useful to the king will serve him for the rest of their lives. Those whose talents the king finds useless will be sent back to their homes. In either case, their eyes and their gifts set the Graced apart from the rest of the world.
Enter Katsa, a young lady graced with amazing survival skills. She has been serving the Middlun king as his henchman since she was a child. But Katsa begins to realize that her Grace will allow her to do good as well, to fight the injustice in the world. Little does Katsa know that an ordinary quest to save an old man will turn her world upside down, forcing her to choose between what is right and what is easy as she helps those closest to her.
This was an excellently written fantasy story. I enjoyed the fantastic elements of the story, and I appreciated the concept of people "graced" with abilities above and beyond that of the average human being. The plot twists genuinely surprised me at times. I could barely put the book down, and I finished the last page definitely hungry for more.
HOWEVER ... I have to add one caveat. The LA Times likens this book to the Twilight series, and they had good reason to do so. The romantic subplot of the story is a necessary evil I may not prefer, but am willing to endure for the sake of the main storyline. However, every author or producer knows that it is possible to "shut the door," so to speak, on a particular scene and leave out any graphic details. Readers are not stupid people, and they can generally figure out what has happened once the curtain falls or the lights dim.
Sadly, on at least one occaion Cashore fails to do this. Just because teenagers are interested in, are thinking about, or are actively involved in sexual activity does not mean that the adults around them should expose them to such thoughts. This would have been an excellent book, a book to put on my classroom shelf, without that one scene. If only there were someone out there who would write clean, good fiction for teens, something not preachy, but with a good worldview.