Love this book! I think it was better than the first, Graceling. After having read some of the other reviews of this book, I am left feeling like we did not even read the same book. Some complained about periods, rape, incest, illegitimate children, sex outside of marriage like those things don't happen in today's society quite often & that the young readers this series is aimed at wouldn't normally be exposed to them. Really? First, those things weren't even a large part of the story, if you think they are, you've missed the point! Second, I felt this book spoke about & dealt with those "unpleasant" issues in a clear, precise, adult like way that made them less shameful. This is how young adults should be told & communicated with, particularly when those issues can be a powder keg of guilt & shame to the adult doing the talking. Which just highlights two of the important themes in this book & ones that I really liked. One, that we don't have to be ashamed of what we are or what made us who we are, we just are & there is joy & value in that. Love the quote, "..your unnatural beauty is natural. Nature is horrifying." Two, that women are in charge of their own sexuality. They are empowered to love who they want, refuse who they don't want, be proactive in using birth control or debating whether to be sterilized & never have children, or raise those children on their own. I think the most valuable lesson here is that women are in charge of their own sexuality regardless of what may have happened in the past, it does not negate their autonomy now.But the thing I loved most about this book? The slow (read whole book) build up of the romance between the two characters. They truly took their time getting to know each other, building a friendship, & then start to explore a possible romance. And in that time both characters change, grow, & learn more about themselves, thus making the final step all that much sweeter. This strikes me as so much more realistic & healthy than other y-a & romance type stories where the h/H fall into immediately lust, have sex quickly, & then are declaring their undying love all within days of meeting each other. In this book their relationships develops over months & almost a whole year. For a y-a book this seems a much more healthy & responsible way to show how to build a successful marriage & relationship. And it allowed me, the reader, to fall in love right along with them.