Rummanah Aasi
  Like many of Kristin Cashore's fans, I was impatiently waiting for the release of Bitterblue. I wanted to know what happened to the adolescent who fought tooth and nail to survive. I also was super curious what happened to Katsa, Po, Fire, and a whole slew of characters that I've grown to love in this series. Though Bitterblue takes place after Graceling, I would highly recommend reading Graceling and then Fire before tackling Bitterblue as a lot of important plot events and reoccurring characters reappear and have important roles in Bitterblue not to mention that the world of the Graceling realm is incredibly intricate.

Description (from Goodreads): Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle—disguised and alone—to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.
  Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.


Review: Like Graceling, Bitterblue takes place in the Seven Kingdoms, where Queen Bitterblue rules over the realm of Monsea. To your ordinary landscape of castles, villages, mountains, and kingdoms comes a unique layer of fantasy. There are people who are born with a grace, an extraordinary ability (some may call it superhuman) to perform a task, which can range from a expert fighter to a lie detector. People with graces have two different eye colors. People either embrace their grace or run away from it. Bitterblue's father, King Leck, had an awful grace that he used to rule his kingdom with an iron fist. After eight years after his death, the kingdom is in rumbles and his eighteen year old daughter, Bitterblue has fully become the Queen of Monsea.
  We are immediately told from the stark and direct opening line of the first chapter that we are on a  journey in search of truth. Though she was technically a queen at the age of 10,  Bitterblue begins her responsibility as a ruler. Unlike Katsa and Fire before her, Bitterblue doesn't have a grace to rely on. She must use her instinct, intellect, and struggle in earnest to find her way through the fog of secrets hidden within her kingdom. Cashore expertly weaves mystery, suspense, and revelation into her story. Some reviewers have commented on the slow pace and the circuitous route that Cashore took her characters to find the truth, but I loved the slow burn plot and found the story utterly absorbing.
  While Bitterblue may lack the action sequences or the focus of romance unlike Graceling and Fire, it is a story about reconstruction. The enemy isn't a physical being, but rather an idea and memory. How do you rebuild a kingdom where trust, loyalty, and the truth have been so manipulated? There is a tangible cloud of confusion that inhabits each and every corner of the kingdom— the nature of the terrible depravity of her dead father, Leck; the condition of her court and her subjects; the true identities of her companions; the ciphers (which were so compelling that I had to reread them to figure out the clues hidden inside) she must recognize and solve.    
  There’s also an element of romance in Bitterblue, but not the sole focus of the story. Bitterblue does fall in love for the first time, and it is unconventional. Here, as in her previous novels, Cashore handles sexuality in a very unique way that stays true the personality of her characters rather than the how they are suppose to be because they are a lord or a lady.    
 What I find interesting with the Graceling Realm trilogy is that the books don’t form your conventional trilogy. Though similar characters may appear, the events aren't sequential but rather interlocking that span well over fifty years, which is why I recommend that you read Cashore's previous books to enjoy Bitterblue to its fullest.  
  I absolutely loved how the theme of power comes a full circle in Bitterblue. Since Bitterblue is not responsible for or needs to watch her limits of extraordinary power, that doesn't make her powerless. Bitterblue's struggle is to accept her obligation of having power and using it correctly in order to rule her kingdom. She is forced to embrace her station with limitations and all. She must come up with her own system of law virtually from scratch.
  Bitterblue is high fantasy at its best. While Bitterblue and company may live in a far removed world from us, they all deal with very real issues which is why they are very appealing when it comes to their stories. Cashore creates a mesmerizing world of complex characters where good and evil may be on the same flip of the coin. I'm already determined to do a reread of all three books just to uncover new gems that I might have missed the first time when Bitterblue comes out in paperback.          I can't recommend Bitterblue highly enough for readers who love strong female characters that carve out a future for themselves. It's nice to have a series where begin a female isn't seen as a weakness but rather different aspects of the gender is celebrated.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images, some language, and sexuality which is implied and not explicitly described. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce, Star Crossed by Elizabeth Bunce, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Study series by Maria V. Snyder
6 Responses
  1. I haven't read this series yet. I am a newbie when it comes to high fantasy, just dipping my toes in right now. Sometimes it works for me sometimes not. But I have wanted to read this series. I don't understand how the books span so many years. Are they each different kingdoms? Are the books meant to be standalones?

    Heather

    Oh, that is an excellent review. It sounds like a confusing book (that's my problem with fantasy) but you've explained it so well, it makes perfect sense. My wallet thanks you (not)!


  2. Rummanah, I've only read Graceling but I really enjoyed it even if I wasn't too thrilled with the way things ended with Po and Katsa. I've heard people say Fire is better so I'm hoping to read that and Bitterblue someday. I'm so happy that more fantasies are being written :)


  3. @Heather: Yes, each book focuses on a new kingdom but they build upon key events and people in the books, especially with King Leck. Each book can be read as a standalone but I think after you read one you'd want to read the other.


  4. I didn't like Graceling as much as everyone else, but it's because I'm not very into high fantasy, plus I didn't like Katsa, but I did love Bitterblue, so I've been eager to get to her story, but I still haven't read Fire. I will take your suggestion and read it before Bitterblue, but I am looking forward to the new kind of enemy. It a different approach to have to battle your memories and reconstruct your kingdom. And while I'm sad that the romance is light, I think I can handle that well enough by getting lost in the story.

    Fantastic review!


  5. Candace Says:

    I loved the first two books, Fire especially. I got this the second it came out but still haven't read it. Too many books! I'm so happy to hear this was a winner! I listened to Fire on audio not long ago as a reminder of things so hopefully I remember everything.


  6. I just skimmed your review because I haven't read Fire yet. I think I need to re-read Graceling before tackling the rest. I really want to read them.


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