What the blog said:
In a world where people born with an exceptional skill, known as 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 carry out his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him. Breaking arms and cutting off fingers are her stock-in-trade. Finding life under his rule increasingly unbearable Katsa forms an underground Council, whose purpose is to combat the destructive behaviour of the seven kings - after all, the Middluns is only one of the Seven Kingdoms, each of them ruled by their own king and his personal agenda for power. When the Council hears that the King of Lienid's father has been kidnapped Katsa investigates ...and stumbles across a mystery. Who would want to kidnap him, and why? And who was the extraordinary Graced fighter who challenged her fighting skills, for the first time, as she and the Council rushed the old man to safety? Something dark and deadly is rising in the north and creeping across the continent, and behind it all lurks the shadowy figure of a one-eyed king ...
What I would say:
This was a brilliant and undemanding fantasy adventure. After the more challenging ‘The Angel’s Game, it was perfect. I always like to start a new fantasy series because I love getting to know all of the new characters; and there were a lot to like in this novel, particularly the women.
Katsa, the female lead, demonstrates two sides to her character very early on and a lot of her story is trying to reconcile who she really is with the ‘work’ she performs for her Uncle Randa. This was a refreshing change from morally unswerving leads who are admirable but a little too righteous for my tastes - I like a bit of an internal struggle, what can I say? I loved the fact that Katsa isn’t defined through her ability to charm men and her appearance and that she can be aloof. Similiarly loveable is little Bitterblue (who I won’t say too much about because she appears later on..) - her dignity and composure is really sweet when combined with the natural vulnerability of a ten year old child. Po, the male lead, is just fabulous - he brings a great touch of comedy to the book and his interaction with Katsa made me chuckle on more than one occasion.
The Seven Kingdoms are painted beautifully and the landscapes are incredible. The action scenes are really well-written and lively and just detailed enough - any more and it would have been gory and any less and they wouldn’t have portrayed all of the levels of Katsa’s Grace. I raced through this book because there is plenty of action, twists involving a whole range of Graces and compelling characters.
Overall:This book isn’t going to change the literary world, but it will make it seem a lot more fun for a while! I’d recommend this to fantasy fans looking for a light, spirited read - I’ve already ordered Cashore’s second novel, Fire!