This is truly one of my favourite books ever! The world Kristin Cashore has imagined is hypnotic. Greedy kings, handsome strangers and a mystery to solve; could you really want more?
The main character, Katsa, is enthralling in herself. The book is set in a time with Kings, Lords, Ladies, servants and peasants. If you know your history, women were often considered meek and submissive in those kinds of societies. This is not necessarily true, but it is certainly the primary image people think of. In the beginning of the book Katsa is stuck under her uncle’s rule. As his puppet, she trains, kills and tortures for him. Now, she isn’t just any ordinary warrior, she has a grace. In the world Kristin Cashore has brought to us, having a grace means having a special ability. It could be baking or swimming. In Katsa’s case, she has the grace of killing. Which makes her the perfect weapon for her uncle, King Randa. She may seem like a puppet, but Katsa does have a mind of her own. A mind she uses to help others. With a secret committee they set about righting any wrongs that they can. Including the kidnapping of another king’s father. You get to see Katsa grow in to a confident woman with her strings cut and her life her own.
Now for my second favourite character, Po. I found the name odd to begin with, but it has certainly grown on me. Not only is he handsome, he is devilish, mysterious and an excellent liar. The way him and Katsa meet his not only unexpected, but when she leaves him unconscious the last thing she anticipated was to see him sitting opposite her in a meeting with the secret committee. He truly is an asset to the committee and does much to help. Their journey doesn’t end there, it takes them far away from the committee and from prying eyes. They go to taverns, camp out in the woods under the stars and uncover mysteries they never imagined would have existed. He is a true modern gentleman. He takes the time to understand Katsa and their brewing friendship.
Another thing that I fell in love with in this book is the culture. More specifically the Lienid culture. Tattoos on biceps meant to be attractive to a man’s future bride. A gold ring on each finger, one for every family member and for their status in society, not to mention numerous gold earrings. The Lienid kingdom is spectacular. Right on the sea, castles on top of hills. The picture Kristin Cashore makes is one of beauty and elegance. A fair land for a fair kingdom.
Despite this book being set in a made up kingdom, with made up cultures and people with magical abilities, the book is very realistic. The social dynamics, the issues the characters’ face are all very real. Many people in society want Katsa to conform to societal conventions such as getting married. Po ends up struggling with a physical impairment that can be considered fatal. Then there are the other characters. A young prince dreaming of being a man of medicine. A young Lord wanting to do the right thing for his people and acquire himself a beautiful bride along the way. The book even depicts the reality of a growing woman’s first time with a man she really loves. These issues, as mundane as some might consider them, can really relate to the lives of its readers.
If you have had the pleasure of reading this book, I highly recommend completing the trilogy. In particular, Bitterblue.