Like many novels there is a point or two where the story seems to slow too much for some readers but I truly enjoyed the key character, Katsa, who has a talent for fighting, combat, and killing. That talent is used by her uncle to punish and/or destroy those who disagree or disobey him. For her uncle, it is important not just to kill but often to torture before killing. Her distaste for torture leads Katsa to refuse to follow his instructions putting her in a difficult position.
Many characters in this novel are "graced" with skills that make their life more interesting or difficult depending upon how you look at it. One is Po, whose grandfather has been kidnapped. When Katsa decides to help him their adventures begin and they narrowly escape difficult situation after difficult situation.
They fall in love but Katsa is determined not to marry anyone. As the novel develops, the reader supports the formation of the Council, an underground network of innkeepers, servants, and gracelings, who share knowledge to thwart missions and protect the innocent who inadvertently encounter the fickle judgment of rulers like Katsa's uncle, Randa.
This is an excellent beginning to a well written series. I hope, however, that the author avoids the trap of many authors who write series and use weak plots and extended wordage just to get the next novel out.
I loved this book! I truly didn't want it to end. I'd love to write more, but busy, busy, busy. Oh, and I loved the narration. Some of the music in the background was a little too much, but I loved having different voices for the characters.
I loved this book. First, it's that great classic combination of intrigue, adventure, and a young person growing up and learning how to be independent. What takes it beyond readability are the engaging writing, sympathetic characters, and some unexpected avoidance of cliches I've come to expect.
Katsa is the king's enforcer/executioner. She hates the job and herself a bit for doing it, but at the beginning doesn't see how to break free of his control. So in her spare time, she's formed a secret council that does good deeds under cover of darkness in an attempt to undo some of the harm she and the king have done. A mission introduces her to Prince Po and a boatload of conspiracy and intrigue, which naturally leads to them going on a mission to find out the truth and possibly rescue a few people and topple a monarchy.
The Seven Kingdoms are like many Fantasylands with their vaguely medieval setups, but Cashore doesn't always follow the script, fortunately. Like many fantasy heroines, Katsa doesn't like wearing dresses - but only because they get in the way of her work, not because she thinks dresses are inherently evil creations. She quite likes her nurse, who is very much pro-dress. She doesn't want to get married - not because she hates men, but because the legal aspects of marriage in her society are unfair, and she thinks that would wreck even a good relationship where she and the guy wanted to treat each other as equals. She doesn't want children either - not because she doesn't like kids; in fact, she likes them fine and acts as a mentor and protector to a girl for part of the book. She just doesn't want her own. And when on her travels she encounters women who are not sure how to protect themselves after their husbands or sons have disappeared (or whatever), she doesn't side with the many fantasy heroines who gripe about how useless those girls are. She wonders why people don't train their daughters in self-defense and force them to be dependent on others to protect themselves, which is not a foolproof system by a long shot. And being Katsa, you know she'll try to fix this, too.
Also, the villain was one of the scariest villains I've seen in a while, and he wasn't quite typical either. He didn't live in a brooding fortress, or ride into battle, or go around randomly stabbing peasants to show us how evil he is, or spend piles of gold on gluttonous feasts and fancy clothes, or even bribe people to hide his evil deeds.
I also enjoyed the prequel, Fire, and am looking forward to the release of the sequel Bitterblue.