Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
PROS:revisiting beloved characters, strong non-Graced heroine
CONS:Leck will haunt your dreams
Overcoming the long-lasting damage, the dark legacy of a villain as evil and brutally efficient as Leck is the TRUE work, and Bitterblue is up to the task.
I have been waiting SO LONG for this day to arrive. Finally! Bitterblue! She’s here! The number of stupendously awesome books releasing on May 1st is cause for serious, somewhat spastic celebration (and hair-pulling anxiety over which ARCS to review first). But I’ve been making come-hither-sexy-eyes at this book for the past four years (long before I knew who Tris and Four and Aura and Zachary were), hoping it would finally come my way. And it happened. IT FINALLY HAPPENED. Kristin Cashore finished the manuscript (after a few false alarms), Penguin BFYR turned it around like a BOSS, and bing bang boom, it’s in my hands. (Guess my come-hither-sexy-book-eyes aren’t broken after all.)
In case you couldn’t tell, Bitterblue tops my personal list of the most anticipated books of 2012, so expectations were HIGH. Impossibly, unfairly high. I’m thrilled to report, at the end of 550 pages, Bitterblue did NOT disappoint.
From here on out, spoiler bombs will drop for Graceling, so if you haven’t read it yet, please come back later.
While the beginning of Bitterblue was a bit slow, it wasn’t long before I was sucked right back into the world of the Seven Kingdoms, and utterly fascinated with the frustrating reign of Bitterblue in the Kingdom of Monsea. Yes, psychopathic Leck is dead and gone, but eight years later Monsea is still recovering from his brutal rule, and Bitterblue is trying to learn how to be a queen, while also learning how to be a woman.
Cashore’s writing is assured and effortless, and deft as always at unearthing your outrage, your sympathy, your laughter, your delight. She has a power shared by few authors to latch on to my ADDish attention span and not let go. It was so lovely to be back in the clutches of a story of hers!
I should note that the tone and feel of Bitterblue is very different from Graceling and Fire, with less emphasis on romance and action; so I think people who are expecting the epic love stories and nail-biting adventures that we encountered with Katsa and Fire might be a *wee* bit disappointed. That’s not to say there isn’t romance and action in this story—it’s there, and it’s well-done—but the focus of this book is Bitterblue and her personal and political struggles as she comes of age on the throne of a broken, damaged kingdom. Much of the intrigue is contained within the castle’s towers and mazelike halls, with a few exciting excursions through the streets of Bitterblue City.
I was thrilled to delve into the politics and mysteries of Monsea, and get answers to the question: “Congrats, you just killed the big bad mind-raping king—NOW what?” The answer is a complex, mature, and thrilling tale.
I know it’s book love when I read an ARC and still want to buy the actual, physical book (especially when it’s a behemoth shelf hog like this one is).
Here are a few reasons Bitterblue has secured its spot on my shelf:
Queen Bitterblue is AWESOME
At one point in the book Bitterblue’s advisor Thiel says to her, “….you were ten years old. Then before I knew it you were a woman of eighteen, going around on your own, discovering perilous truths, and apparently, running through the streets at night. You must allow me time to adjust.”
Yeah, Thiel, we ALL need time to adjust. Bitterblue is most definitely not the poor little damsel in distress that needed rescuing by Katsa and Po any longer. She’s been in the unenviable position of growing up without parents, recovering from serious psychological trauma/abuse, while trying to learn how to be a just and compassionate ruler….and trying to just grow up in general. We see her navigate the highs and disappointments of first love, making friends, and exploring and rebelling, all on the side of a VERY serious day job.
Bitterblue makes mistakes, but she is a thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate girl, with a large capacity for love, forgiveness, and healing (essentially she’s the exact opposite of her father, which is what Monsea sorely needs), and she LEARNS from her mistakes. I feel like Monsea is in good hands, and they’re only going to get stronger, and more capable.
You’re in Bitterblue’s head for the entire book, so if you don’t love her, you’re probably not going to have a good time. Good thing she’s damn near impossible to dislike.
The return of beloved characters
Before I read Bitterblue, Graceling was my favorite of Cashore’s books, (and I’m almost 100% positive it still is, but I’m still digesting Bitterblue). Her writing is polarizing—even amongst fellow Cashore fans (Cashites? Cashards?), people strongly disagree on which book is THE BEST. But fans of both Gracelingand Fire will have “Hell yes!” moments when their beloved characters return.
The best character revisit for me? Katsa and Po, hands down. Their romance was so intense in Graceling, and I loved, utterly LOVED, that they parted ways at the end, with intentions to meet up again. We get to see years and years later what that kind of romance looks like, and I STILL love it. Their relationship isn’t controlling, or selfish, or all-consuming, and yet it doesn’t sacrifice an ounce of intensity, passion, and loyalty. It’s the best kind of fictional romance. One I can both envy/fantasize about, and actually envision; they fight, they screw up, they apologize, they live and love as best they can, and try always to be better.
This story also managed a miraculous character feat—I now totally love Giddon, a character fromGraceling who I once thought was an utter buffoon.
Knowledge is power
Bitterblue recognizes that the most urgent need the Kingdom of Monsea has as the fog of Leck’s rule and mind control clears is knowledge. Knowledge of what actually happened, however painful it may be to face. And knowledge of what’s happening in her kingdom now, not just what her advisors deem worthy of her worry and time. She has dedicated spies, of course, but her life in the Queen’s tower doesn’t provide her with enough knowledge, so Bitterblue takes to the streets in search of more.
She also makes like Hermione in her royal library, and plows through the books her father gave her as a girl, as well as the books her father sought to destroy. She is tireless in her quest to know more, and she and her cantakerous librarian Death make an impressive team. Added plus: she has to wonk out on ciphers and puzzles to get at some of this knowledge!
Leck looms large
One of the reasons Graceling was such a compelling, harrowing read was the intense danger from one of the most dastardly villains in YA literature, King Leck. You would think that his reign of terror would end with his death, but the effects of his mind control and torture linger on nearly a decade later.
We find out much more about Leck’s crimes, and I think I seriously need to bump this sicko up to at least #2 in my villain heirarchy now that I know more about what he’s done. It is shiver-inducing stuff. I knew he was a sadist, but come ON.
Vanquishing a Leck-style villain with a dagger is exciting stuff. But overcoming the long-lasting damage, the dark legacy of a villain as evil and brutally efficient as Leck is the TRUE work, and Bitterblue is up to the task, in a way that the brash and fiery Katsa could never be.
Check out this fantastic teaser trailer: