Graceling by Kristin Cashore.
This is one of those books I put off reading and I can just kick myself for that. It is a completely amazing debut novel with a strong heroine, a fantastically intricate storyline, and an imaginative setting. Lady Katsa is a Graceling ( human with some type of special skill), she has a superhuman skill for killing that was discovered when she accidentally killed a would-be molester when she was only eight. Unfortunately, in Katsa’s world Gracelings become servants of the king, and her corrupt uncle King Randa uses her as his personal assassin to keep his kingdom in line. Because she hates the fact that she is basically a hired killer, she forms the Council, a group of powerful people who secretly do good deeds throughout the Seven Kingdoms. It is while on one of these quests to free a kidnapped royal that she meets Prince Po, another Graceling. They join forces to free his grandfather from a secret dungeon, and eventually find themselves on an adventure more important than they had ever imagined.
Cashore has done a fabulous job building her fantasy world, both intriguing and believable at the same time. Her main characters are fleshed out with intricate details, encouraging readers to invest in their story. Katsa especially is well-drawn: emotionally strong, independent and single-minded.
I recommend this to all teen readers, especially those looking for a fast-paced adventure with strong, believable characters.