Review: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

I received this book for free from BEA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Bitterblue by Kristin CashoreBitterblue by Kristin Cashore
Series: Graceling Realm #3
Published by Dial BFYR on May 1, 2012
Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 563
Format: Hardcover
Source: BEA
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four-stars

Eight years have passed since the young Princess Bitterblue, and her country, were saved from the vicious King Leck. Now Bitterblue is the queen of Monsea, and her land is at peace.

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.

Two thieves, who have sworn only to 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, who possesses an unidentified Grace, may also hold a key to her heart . . .

I waited in line at my first BEA for this hardcover of Bitterblue. I was so excited to meet Kristin Cashore and to read the third book in one of my very favorite series. Yet, I didn’t read it. Not until just now. The long wait for the third book turned my anticipation to levels that I knew the book couldn’t possible meet, especially after the mixed reviews began to roll out. Partly, I also saved Bitterblue because I didn’t want to run out of Cashore books, which turns out to be a somewhat valid concern. Still, the time finally came to give Bitterblue a try. This will be a review of Bitterblue but also somewhat about the series as a whole, which I just reread.

Oddly enough, Graceling, which had been one of my favorite books for so long, the one I always thought was technically superior to Fire has ended up my least favorite of the three. Fire I think the strongest on many levels. Bitterblue falls in the middle, featuring all the things I love about Cashore’s writing but also a bit messier than Fire.

Bitterblue surprised me. I expected her to more greatly resemble the child she was in Graceling: hesitant, fearful, loath to trust. In the years since, however, she has grown into a kind, trusting, adventurous, and happy person. She has pain beneath the surface obviously, but there’s a lightness in her spirit compared to either Katsa or Fire. The difference lies, I believe, in the fact that Bitterblue was rescued by good, reliable people and she had that decade to sort of recover. Also, she buried a lot of her pain, allowing her to carry on more easily. Of course, those things are going to be hers to face throughout the book.

Bitterblue starts out rather lighthearted, with the young queen sneaking out of the castle to find out what her city is really like. She goes on adventures and meets a street rat thief named Sapphire, or Saf for short. (Cashore’s great strength as an author does not lie in naming characters; the names are so ridiculous they’re almost charming.) Bitterblue felt cooped up in the castle and disconnected from what life in her kingdom actually meant, so she wanted to see for herself.

As one might predict, she befriends Saf and his good friends, the adorable Teddy and Saf and Teddy’s sisters who are in love. She and Saf are totally shippable. I can see, though, why readers would be surprised by Bitterblue and potentially disappointed in the romance. The last book in the series fails to deliver an HEA for the main ship. Personally, I’m a fan of this because 1) these kids might work it out in time, inspired by the Dells where the king married a commoner 2) I wouldn’t mind if she hooked up with Giddon instead and 3) Cashore really considers the practicalities of their relationship. Queens aren’t always free to do what they wish and people don’t always fall end up with their first love, so I feel like leaving it open adds a dash of realism.

The plot is a bit of a mixed bag. Lots of things happened that blew my mind with their cleverness. Twists surprised me, like View Spoiler ». At the same time, though, I feel like the biggest mystery was really obvious. From the very beginning, I was suspicious and my suspicions proved correct. View Spoiler » That said, I do really like the way that Bitterblue handles the fall out.

What I love most about the series as a whole is how aspirational this fantasy world is. Terrible rulers exist but good people are working to improve the world. There are powerful women working to ensure that women are treated equally. There’s no double standard about sex and every culture the reader has encountered in these books is completely sex-positive. There remains some discomfort with homosexuality in certain kingdoms but that’s obviously in the process of changing. Fantasy often reinforces medieval social constructs even though the worlds are fictional and don’t need to be that way, so I admire Cashore so much for not doing that.

I’m happy to report that I thought Bitterblue was wonderful. I adored getting to see my favorite characters from the first two books again, and I loved the new additions too. Now begins the torturous wait for more books from Kristin Cashore.

Favorite Quote:

Teddy grinned again. “Truths are dangerous,” he said.

“Then why are you writing them in a book?”

“To catch them between the pages,” said Teddy, “and trap them before they disappear.”

“If they’re dangerous, why not let them disappear?”

“Because when truths disappear, they leave behind blank spaces, and that is also dangerous.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

gif end of an era friends

One response to “Review: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore”

  1. I would love to reread these books, it’s been so long. My sister found out about Fire when she worked at BN and Graceling was some of the first YA I ever read!

    I remember parts of Bitterblue, and by extension the other two books, being so disturbing… hard to read… but otherwise I thought they were so wonderful! I love the world and the characters and how the books connect to one another. It’s so fun when old favorite characters pop up. I’m glad Bitterblue lived up to your expectations! While I was sad about the ship you are right. Not everything works out in real life and it’s nice to see that reflected in books.

    Omg seriously when is she coming out with another book?! I need to check her website for clues again…
    Morgan @ Gone with the Words recently posted…Bitsy Words: Jesse’s Girl | Stitching Snow | Serafina and the Black CloakMy Profile

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