Fantasy Adventure with Beauty, Intelligence, and Depth
Review based on an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC).
Let me start off by saying if you’re not familiar with Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series, go here first to read our review of the first book, Graceling, in this companion book trilogy. It’s a great fantasy adventure with an active, feisty female protagonist, and both Ruby and I loved it (and all consequent books!). If you have read Graceling and it’s companion Fire, carry on.
Bitterblue is, obviously, the long-awaited third book in Cashore’s fantasy world of the Seven Kingdoms. While Graceling focuses on Katsa (a young woman with a killing grace) and Fire goes over the mountains and into the past to show us the Dells and a human monster named Fire, Bitterblue focuses on the young queen of the same name. (Never fear, Katsa and Po fans: they, along with other familiar faces, are woven throughout the pages and in Bitterblue’s life.)
It has been eight years since Bitterblue’s father, the mind-controlling graceling King Leck, was killed, and she has been growing up under the title of Queen of Monsea. Surrounded by old advisors who would like to pardon all crimes under Leck’s horrific reign and pretend those decades never happened, she finds herself under a mountain of paperwork, governing a land she does not feel she knows. At first Bitterblue trusts her advisers’ judgment, but her growing frustration and a sense of ignorance about the reality of her father, his reign, and the people and society of Monsea makes her realize that she has much to learn. In a moment of exasperation, Bitterblue sneaks out of the castle one night in servant’s clothes and finds herself in a crumbling city full of thieves–some friendly, some dangerous–and finally realizes that the “truths” she is being told in her castle are not real. Through her budding relationship with two thieves and printers, Bitterblue slowly learns about her kingdom through her disguise and starts to uncover the fog that Leck left on his subjects, as well as the deceit and misinformation making its way to her palace. As her own mind wakes up to the realities of her kingdom–both beautiful and tragic–and she starts a secret project to uncover who Leck really was and how she can bring her people back to the light. Bitterblue is more of a mental adventure than its predecessors, but it still holds the key ingredients that have made all of Cashore’s books a success, including romance, adventure, suspense and intrigue, and difficult, sometimes philosophical questions about self and others. I loved Bitterblue, and my only (minor) regret is that I didn’t re-read the companion novels before diving in.
Cashore’s scenery, artwork, and world are once again described in wonderful detail and fluency. The interactions between characters create a complicated map that told stories I as a reader didn’t even think to question. Cashore clearly had a world in mind when she created these books, and her depiction is stunning fantasy. As for characters, Bitterblue herself is fascinating, built up from the child of a violent, mind-controlling king to the uncertain ruler of Monsea. This is a coming-of-age story but in an escalated sense: not only does she question her own desires, attractions, and understanding of the world, but she must also address her role as queen and leader, another developing aspect of her personality. I have found a true literary BFF in Bitterblue. Her mind works as mine does–not in straight, linear paths, but in webs of connections that are often confusing and overwhelming. Bitterblue’s mind pitter-patters around, constantly trying to sort through cyphers and absorb new information, and at times her thoughts are muddled and confusing, to reader and fellow-characters alike. In this sense, I could relate to Bitterblue better than to almost any other literary character I’ve encountered: my mind works, sometimes not effectively, in almost exactly the same way. My thoughts frequently aren’t linear, and through Bitterblue’s confusion I found a sense of understanding, simultaneously making her more relate-able and more complicated.
Bitterblue is a beautifully crafted novel in multiple senses, the most impressive of which is the way that Cashore ties all three of the Graceling novels together. It is also, because of this, the most intricately developed of her three books. Nothing is tied up neatly or solved without drama, but she still pulls the three novels–and the protagonists of those stories–together to complete a puzzle that we as readers didn’t even know needed solving. As I read, it was almost like I could see different threads pulled from multiple tapestries and slowly being wound or tied together to create a giant, complicated web of cause and effect. And despite my awareness of it, it never distracted from the story or the characters.
The good news? If you’re a fan of Cashore’s writing or enjoyed Eon, Divergent, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, The Hunger Games, or any number of other fantasy/sci-fi adventures with a strong female protagonist, mark this one down as a must read. The bad news? It’s not due to hit stores May 1, 2012. Have a hard time waiting? I suggest you use the next two months to read (or re-read) Graceling and Fire, both because they’re awesome and because of the impact they have on Bitterblue’s world eight years later.
Age 13+ (mature content: violence, sexual themes)
Copyright May 2012
Image from www.kristincashore.blogspot.com
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