I feel like I’ve been in a book frenzy lately, but I suppose it’s mostly because by next week, my reading might possibly slow down and my 25 reads project isn’t even remotely finished (though, apparently I’ve already finished my Goodreads goal of 50 books this year, so there’s that!).
Note: This book is a sequel to Graceling and a companion novel to Fire, so while it does serve as a stand-alone, it might be a good idea to pick up the other two books first unless you don’t mind major spoilers headed your way (and yeah, I can’t really stop myself at this point…).
Now, about Bitterblue…
by Kristin Cashore
Dial Books, May 2012
YA high fantasy
But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisers, who have run the country on her behalf since Leck’s death, believe in a forward-thinking plan: to pardon all of those who committed terrible acts during Leck’s reign; and to forget every dark event that ever happened. Monsea’s past has become shrouded in mystery, and it’s only when Bitterblue begins sneaking out of her castle – curious, disguised and alone – to walk the streets of her own city, that she begins to realise the truth. Her kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year long spell of a madman, and now their only chance to move forward is to revisit the past.
Whatever that past holds.
Bitterblue is a much darker fantasy than its predecessors. While there were quite a few disturbing accounts in Graceling and in Fire, Bitterblue takes it a whole other level. It is a different book, and those who expected a story like Cashore’s previous novels might have to re-arrange their mindset, because Bitterblue’s story isn’t exactly what you would consider action or adventure-packed (though there is a little of that scattered in the novel). It’s got a more psychological feel to it; after all, people are still trying to recover from a mad king’s 35-year rape of a kingdom.
What I Loved
Recurring characters. It’s been eight years since Katsa and Po and the Council have entered the fray, and at this point these characters are around my age (which is kind of awesome). It was great to see them again. Katsa is every bit as fierce and unstoppable a force as she had been in Graceling. I didn’t think Po could have gotten more awesomely swoonworthy in my eyes, but he clearly did. And Giddon was a pleasant surprise. I remember the Middluns lord to be kind of an ass in Graceling, but it is nice to see a different light–and perspective–shining on him. I actually loved Giddon in Bitterblue.
Queen Bitterblue. Ever since Graceling, I’d always wanted to read a story on how Bitterblue would deal with her rapid ascendance into the Monsean throne. I always thought Bitterblue had been an interesting character as a child, and she grows by leaps and bounds as a young woman. She is clever by more than a half, has a mental strength almost equal to the strong-minded Dellians, and cares about her people. She’s a a perfectly good queen, even though in most of the novel she sincerely didn’t think so. Oh, and she does maths. And ciphers. Those alone made me love her already!
Leck’s villainy. Okay. I can’t exactly say I admire this villain, because he’s so contemptible and horrifying that at some point I almost threw the book to the other side of the couch because I was so creeped out by his words. I mean, come on, “Little girls are even more perfect when they bleed.” That. That gave me a severe case of goosebumps, and his journal entries didn’t get any better from there. I don’t usually get this scared of something a fictional character writes. I don’t love Leck or admire his villainy, but I loved the way he was written. He is by far one of the craziest villains I’ve encountered in YA fantasy. And his impact on all three books can be felt before and after the events. It’s crazy how long he’s ruled Monsea (35 frelling years!), and crazier still how he managed to be the major villain in all three books, even when his physical appearances were minuscule.
Death (pronounced like “teeth” unless you want to annoy him). He definitely gets my “Grace of the Moment” award. I’d like an eidetic memory, too.
The Dellians. Not gonna lie, I kind of did a fangirl-flail when Lady “Bier” showed up. It was great seeing her again and finding out what happened after the events in Fire. I mean, I was hoping this would happen, especially with all of the hints throughout the book, but it was still an unexpected surprise that the character I was hoping to see did show up again. I’m pretty sure my friend got the brunt of my squeeing at that point.
Allusions to previous books. There were a lot. Throughout the castle are sculptures and other types of artwork showcasing Leck’s “monster” world. It was cool that all three books were tied together in that way, but at the same time I couldn’t help but yearn to read Fire and Graceling instead (mostly Fire). It was a little unfair to Bitterblue, since the book is her story, but I wanted to go back to The Dells and play with the colorful monster creatures that could screw with people’s minds.
What I Didn’t Love
The romance. Saf was mostly a jerk. I spent a good portion of the romance shaking my head and thinking: “What is the appeal to him?!” He’s redeemable, I suppose, but still a jerk.
The pacing. It was kind of slow. Bitterblue didn’t get very interesting for me until probably 270-something pages in, when all of the pieces fell into place and began making sense.
Underwhelming ending. Okay, some of it was underwhelming. I honestly would have been fine at the second to last part of the book, even though that meant not seeing other conclusions, but that’s just me.
I don’t think I could re-read portions of this book again because of how disturbing they were, but it was certainly worth getting through, if only to get back into the Graceling realm once more.
4 out of 5 Goodreads stars! (Closer to 4.5…but anyway…)