Lets get the ugly out of the way first. There wasn't much of it, I promise.
I had two problems with this book. One a big one, the other little enough that it only irked me. The little one was her love for starting sentences with conjunctions. Now, I'll all for the occasional sentence starting with "but" or "and" but she used them far too frequently for my tastes. This is a personal thing, of course. I felt like there some places where it was used that would have been stronger if she'd left off the "and" and started with the "he/she" that usually followed.
The big problem was her villain. He was evil enough, I guess, but he was evil for the sake of being evil. The catalyst happened not for any sinister plot, but because the villain wanted to torture someone to make people do what he wanted them to do. Even his Grace (kind of a heightened natural ability, like charming people to believe your lies, swimming really well, all sorts of things) server no other purpose than to make people do what he wanted the to do. And he had no reason. There was no motivation. No personality or sympathetic characteristic. He's a villain to hate, but not because he's evil. It's because he's flat, uninteresting. Evil for the sake of evil does not a villain make.
Now the good things, which far outweigh the bad.
The characters. Oh, how I love the characters. Katsa, the hero of the piece, struggles to break free of the uncle, her king, that uses her deadly Grace for striking fear into the people that cross him. Usually by ordering her maim them, or kill them. She gets tired of it all, though. Of being a savage creature, little more than a trained dog. Po, a prince also Graced, helps her free herself by helping her come to the simple realization that her uncle is a bully and really had no power over her.
Along with Po and Katsa, there's a whole slew of supporting cast. Kristin Cashore does a marvelous job of making the supporting characters rich and interesting, despite the fact that some of them have very limited screen time.
All these wonderful characters (excepting the villain, who's still flat and boring, remember) are set in a wonderful world, where people can have two different eye colors. Those that do are Graced. There's such a wide range of graces. No two are exactly the same. In Lienid, the home of Prince Po, Graced are respected, and free to do as they please, while in Middluns (and I think other kingdoms) where Katsa's born, Graced are giving to the kings, and the kings are then free do with them as they please. It's not that the Graces are magic. Magic has become so common in fantasy that it's not really magical anymore. The Graces, by their simplicity and uniqueness, seem magical.
Last, but not at all least, the writing. Except for the plethora of sentences started with conjunctions, the writing is beautiful. The story it's self is character driven, and Kristin Cashore does a wonderful job of describing this unique world without bogging the reader down in details.
I highly recommend Graceling. It's certainly going to be one of those books I read again and again, because I love the characters to no end. I felt almost cheated when the book ended, because I wasn't ready to give up traveling with Katsa and Po. If you haven't added it to your to-read list, go do it now. Right now. Why are you still reading this? Go! Go! Graceling by Kristin Cashore must be added to your reading lists. the demons compel you!