Graceling by Kristin Cashore. (Grades 7+)
Try as I might, I cannot write a better (or even equal) summary of Graceling than Leila already did. So I'm gonna send you over there to read her review.
I mean, when Leila "Super-duper-ultra-mega-uber recommend[s]" a book, um, how can you pass it up?
Here's what I loved about Graceling:
1. Super-intriguing premise. The whole concept of Graces really fascinated me. Skills that could be supremely useful or totally un-useful. The fact that even though they are "Graced", they are shunned by people in most of the kingdoms. I mean, the term "Graced" implies something good, no? But Gracelings make many people uncomfortable.
2. An intricately built world that was fleshed out more and more as the story continued. I wanted to spend more time in that world, to know its history and its people. Boy howdy has Kristin Cashore built a world.
3. A kick-butt herione who's still working on her personal demons. Katsa is by no means perfect. She sees herself as King Randa sees her and as others in the kingdoms see her: something to be feared (and yes, something and not someone). Throughout the book she challenges herself and really works on accepting who she is and getting to know herself and her Grace.
4. A bit of romance, but romance that's not necessarily easy or meant to be.
5. The twists and turns, oh my!
And I think that's about as much as I can go into without getting all spoiler-y. I agree with Leila that this is highly recommended for fans of fantasy like Tamora Pierce, or Cynthia Voigt's Kingdom series. It also reminded me of Northlander.
Graceling's on the ACPL Mock Printz list (and the Mock Newbery list, although I personally feel that it's more appropriate on the Printz). And you'll certainly want to check out Kristin Cashore's blog (where we learn that she's working on two more books set in this world! Hooray!).
Now, I am certainly not meaning to discount any of the other fine fantasy/sci-fi books published this year, but it would be interesting to see a Cybils showdown: Graceling vs. The Hunger Games. What do you think?