Sci-fi/fantasy junkie, storyteller, devourer of books, workaholic
Liked it for the most part. It was definitely nice to read a good ole high fantasy, with medieval swords and fast horses and even a touch of magic, starring a strong young woman who doesn't need to be swept off her feet or rescued. The first third or so of the book was very promising, with royal intrigue and high-stakes dilemma. But I feel like the story didn't live up to its potential. The world didn't interest me that much; it's a pretty cut-and-dry renaissance-style kingdom, with no clear magic system to define the Graces. Also didn't like how super-powered Katsa and Po were... their super-Graces made things a little too easy for them, so despite the danger they were supposed to be in, I never bought the tension (because it's demonstrated over and over that Katsa is UNBEATABLE and so I know she'll win, thereby killing any suspense). And, of course, there were the Endless Walking Scenes, where the plot just comes to a standstill as the characters march through the woods for ages and ages and ages. Oh, and because I was listening to an audiobook, writing foibles I might have glanced over on the page became glaringly obvious (the most irritating of which was how Po couldn't stop saying Katsa's name, and how repetitive Cashore's writing gets... she repeats words within the same sentence!).
One last issue: The royal intrigue set up by the first third fell flat on its face, with solutions and answers coming far too easily. And I feel like an opportunity to explore the villain's motivations was squandered and written off, even though the question of what he wanted was what kept me hooked initially (I was very disappointed by how quickly his plotline ended).
That being said, I did like the book overall. Most of my quibbles are pet peeves, and what I liked about the story is harder to define than a handful of nitpicky complaints. Katsa is a kick-ass heroine who defies expectations and won't take crap from anyone, which is great to see in a genre too often populated by wilting damsels or cartoonish witches and whores (when they're present at all). I do wish her character had a little more dimension, but she's an enjoyable character to follow. I liked Po and Raffin a lot (I was so bummed that he wasn't in it more!), though my favorite character, Captain Faun, only had about 3 scenes (she rocked those scenes!).
I was listening to the full cast audio version, which had different voice actors for the dialogue, and they were all excellent. Especially Raffin and Po (maybe that's why I liked their characters so much!). The musical cues were an interesting touch, giving the book an old radio drama type of feel. And the narrator did an excellent job of bringing the words to life (even when Cashore was needlessly repeating them).