by Kristin Cashore. Novel. 471 pages. Grades 8-12.
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Katsa is the king's niece and a Graceling -- one born with special powers. Her gift is the ability to kill with her bare hands. When her gift is discovered, at the age of eight, she enters into a period of training so that she can control the power and stun with a punch or kick instead of kill.
This strong heroine is determined to use her gift in responsible ways within the complicated land of seven kingdoms where power and greed clash with benevolence and justice. She forms a secret council to fight for the rights of victims of government abuse, including that perpetrated by her uncle.
When Katsa meets another Graceling, Prince Po, during the rescue of the Prince's grandfather who is being held prisoner, she eventually builds a friendship with him that challenges her around issues of self-reliance versus depending on others. Her quest to save the seven kingdoms brings her through a high adventure of combat, romance and self-discovery.