Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Katsa has been able to kill people with her bare hands since she was eight. Katsa lives in the seven kingdoms, where very occasionally, a person is born with an extreme skill called a Grace. Gracelings are feared and exploited in the seven kingdoms, and none moreso than Katsa, who's expected to do the dirty work of torture and punishment for her uncle, King Randa. But then she meets a mysterious stranger named Po, who is also a Graced fighter and the first person ever to challenge her in a fight. The two form a bond, and each discovers truths they never imagined about themselves, each other, and a terrible danger that is spreading slowly through the seven kingdoms.
Graceling's stand-alone prequel-ish companion book, takes place across the mountains to the east of the seven kingdoms, in a rocky, war-torn land called the Dells.
Beautiful creatures called monsters live in the Dells. Monsters have the shape of normal animals: mountain lions, dragonflies, horses, fish. But the hair or scales or feathers of monsters are gorgeously colored-- fuchsia, turquoise, sparkly bronze, iridescent green-- and their minds have the power to control the minds of humans.
Seventeen-year-old Fire is the last remaining human-shaped monster in the Dells. Gorgeously monstrous in body and mind but with a human appreciation of right and wrong, she is hated and mistrusted by just about everyone, and this book is her story.
This is a companion book to both Graceling and Fire and takes place in the seven kingdoms eight years after Graceling. (Consider yourself warned: there are Graceling spoilers ahead!) Bitterblue, ten years old in Graceling, is now eighteen, and the queen of a kingdom still in recovery from the reign of its previous king, her father. The influence of Bitterblue's father -- a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities -- lives on in Monsea, in ways Bitterblue hasn't yet learned the extent of. Feeling hemmed in by her over-protective and controlling staff, Queen Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle to walk the streets of her own city at night -- and meets two thieves who hold a key to the truth of her father's reign.
And thanks to blog reader Rebecca Rabinowitz, here's the inside scoop about what's queer about this series:
GRACELING: Two men are a couple. This is not 100% explicit: readers sometimes ask about it and sound unsure, and it's able to be ignored or not seen if that's how a reader leans, but many, many readers see them as a couple.
FIRE: In the book's backstory, a woman had a relationship with another woman. Because this woman then falls in love with a man, she's pretty much bi. Yet, as in GRACELING, it's not 100% explicit: the backstory relationship can be seen as a very warm and affectionate and emotional friendship, if a reader insists upon it.
BITTERBLUE: Those two men from GRACELING are now an explicit couple. Also, there's an explicit woman-woman couple, an explicitly bi man who is new to the series, and an explicitly gay man whom readers will remember from GRACELING, though his sexuality didn't come up there.
Add your review of "Graceling," "Fire," and/or "Bitterblue" in comments!