This book was hugely refreshing in a genre that has been saturated with the same old stories, plots, characters, and 'powers'.
The book is set in a fantasy world divided into different kingdoms. Knowledge and background about this world was seamlessly integrated into the storyline. The layout of the land seemed realistic and travels between kingdoms provided the reader with rich descriptions of the landscape.
The Grace is a relatively unique power (although it did remind me a bit of the Geass in the anime Code Geass), which I really liked. I really enjoyed the way that the characters' relationship with their Graces was continuous and they were always learning more about what they could and couldn't do. Interestingly, those with Graces are pretty much unable to hide since their eyes are two different colours, and not always normal colours.
However, the characters were by far my favourite part of the story. Katsa is a strong female heroine with a particular Grace for killing (view spoiler). Because of this, she is used by her uncle, the King of the Middluns, to carry out punishments. Katsa struggles with using her Grace to hurt others, and creates the Council, a group that uses information from their spy master to protect and care for those in need. Once Katsa breaks away from her uncle, she becomes a more motivated and determined character. One of my favourite traits of hers is her ability to do things for herself, even when Po (her love interest) offers to do things himself. It's really great to see a heroine who doesn't need a man to make her who she is.
Not only was Katsa great, her love interest, Po, was also absolutely amazing. At first he seemed conceited (and sexy), but once you really get to know him it's tough not to fall in love with him yourself. His relationship with his Grace (view spoiler) is probably the most interesting in this book. All in all, he was just a sweet, kind, caring guy who had the bonus of being super sexy (especially if you like a guy with earrings). It was nice to finally see a character like Po, who had no hints of abuse in his character (unless getting regularly beat up by Jatsa counts) and who didn't expect Katsa to be someone different for him.
Other characters were also well built. Po's cousin Bitterblue was interesting. I'm excited to read more about her in the third book. I also really enjoyed Katsa's cousin Raffin, and Captain Faun, who helped Katsa and Bitterblue out of a tough spot.
Overall, once of the most enjoyable books I've read this year. I can't wait to move onto Fire, even if it isn't about Katsa and Po.