In the Seven Kingdom, some people are Graced: recognized by mismatched eyes, the have a special talent, a Grace, of one sort or another. It could be cooking or swimming, or it could be mind reading. Or it could be killing.
Katsa has trained since she was a small child, learning to control her Grace such that she can disarm or injure instead of killing, something she does as rarely as possible. Like all Gracelings in the kingdom, she belongs to the king and must do as he asks. He asks for her to torture and kill his disobedient subjects, publicly, to bring fear and compliance from the rest of the populace. Behind the king’s back, she and few allies work against injustice in other kingdoms.
Katsa’s delicate equilibrium is disrupted with the arrival of a Graceling prince from a faraway kingdom. Unafraid to meet her eyes – one blue, the other green – Po asks questions she’s been trying her whole life not to answer.
Graceling revolves around identity. Gracelings, easily recognized by their eyes, their places in society are set, whether they are glorified slaves, cast-offs, or honored. Typically, a Graceling’s eyes settle before they demonstrate a particular aptitude for one thing or another; from that point on they are scrutinized until their particular skill becomes apparent. Then, society defines them largely by their Grace, but, as always, the gap between society’s identification and one’s self-identification has the potential to be vast. Being Graced magnifies this potential tenfold.
Katsa is seen as a Graced fighter at best, a Graced killer or a Graced thug at worst. She fears her Grace and hates much of what she does with it, but it cannot be ignored. She hates her reputation, but she knows it to be based in fact, and therefore cannot construct an identity for herself which does not revolve around the cruelty she perpetrates on the king’s behalf.
Luckily for Katsa, identities can be redefined, and both journeys and new acquaintances can catalyze such a reformation.
My review of the prequel, Fire