Despite her seeming brutality, Katsa has founded the Council, a group devoted to helping protect citizens of the kingdoms from the anger and/or carelessness of their oft hot-tempered kings. It is on a mission of the Council that Katsa first meets him, the strange hooded man in the courtyard who could be extremely dangerous to her, yet whom she only knocks out. Later, they become friends, and she discovers that he is Graced, as well.
However, something is afoot in the kingdoms--the Council has not been able to ascertain who was behind the kidnapping of their latest rescue, the Lienid king. As intelligence is gathered, it becomes clear that the only possible culprit is Monsea. The only problem is, there are widespread tales of the Monsean king's kindness to both people and animals, and it is this mystery that will lead Katsa into the most dangerous situation she has ever faced: one in which her Grace will not help her.
On normal standards, Graceling is a terrific, fast-paced, un-put-down-able read. Considering that it is a debut novel, Graceling is stunning. Kristin Cashore manages to show Katsa as both threatening and likeable; cold, yet friendly. King Randa is absolutely despicable, as he should be, and Po is as well-faceted a character as Katsa--which is saying something. The characters in Graceling could very well be real people for all the life Cashore breathes into them.
As for the story itself, I feel that it is a very real portrait of how people behave. Though the plot is well-drawn and captivating, this was, for me, a character's novel, and I look forward to meeting more of Cashore's creations in the future.