Graceling is a YA Fantasy novel, but the fantasy elements are extremely underplayed. Besides the pseudo-medieval setting, the only fantastical element is that certain rare individuals possess graces that give them special abilities. Gracelings are feared and hated for their powers. The tone is less Harry Potter and more Mutants from Marvel Comics.
Graceling is prime example of the contradictions of YA fiction. Its vocabulary and storytelling is so simple it could be aimed at younger teens, but it includes scenes of violence and deals frankly with sexuality in a way you would expect to be reserved for an older audience. Katsa, the main character, ticks off all the boxes of young adult psycho-social development in the course of the novel, achieving identity, independence, intimacy, and responsibility one step at a time. The author clearly feels that plot exists for the sake of character development, not as an end unto itself.
Despite the fact that its YA fiction scaffolding is very visible, I enjoyed Graceling. Katsa is an engaging character and I enjoyed watching her evolve from a feared thug into someone who genuinely cared about other people.