Novel, YA (series: Graceling)
"Katsa, a warrior-girl in her late teens with one blue eye and one green eye. This gives her haunting beauty, but also marks her as a Graceling. Gracelings are beings with special talents—swimming, storytelling, dancing. Katsa's Grace is considered more useful: her ability to fight (and kill, if she wanted to) is unequaled in the seven kingdoms. Forced to act as a henchman for a manipulative king, Katsa channels her guilt by forming a secret council of like-minded citizens who carry out secret missions to promote justice over cruelty and abuses of power."
I wanted more. The book ended with a reasonable conclusion and I wish it hadn't because I wanted to stay with Katsa and Po in that world and keep reading more. I guess, what I'm saying is that it was really good.
So it starts with Katsa being kind of a brainless killer girl, which to me is a pretty good start actually if nothing else because it's a strong female lead and since it was YA, there was hope for some character development. (I should mention that I didn't actually read any summaries of this book.) With the council you learn that nope, Katsa is not brainless or a servant but actually into social justice which is just, you guys, looooooads better and I settled in for a good read. So yes, there's the love interest (my editions cover called it a "romance novel" which is...not really the whole story) in the shape of a foreign Graceling Po but Katsa is such a strong lead (albeit emotionally distant/unavailable) that there's nothing contrived about the romance. Instead, Po is a great partner in that he's supportive of whatever she does and helps her grow. Ok, that sounds a bit contrived but it actually seems quite natural in the context of the novel. Forget my description, it's actually a great way of forcing Katsa to reevaluate herself on her own terms and thus learn how Graces might not always be what they appear to others but rather something much more personal. Oh! And I should also mention that there is a sensitive, and it's okay to be, male character AND a different strong female character who is actually way young.
So let's recap: this has a strong female lead, other strong female characters, good male role models, a unique world complete with a need for a map, characters who grow and change, and relationships that come through organically. Another in that series of YA classics that "wait, why haven't I already read this?!"
I immediately put this down and requested Fire (a prequel) and Bitterblue (a sequel) from my libraries.