AUTHOR: Kristin Cashore
LENGTH: 563 pages
SUMMARY: (via goodreads.com) 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: I was really excited about this last installment in the Graceling family. I was so enamored of Graceling itself and was blown-away by Fire. I wasn’t sure anything could top or bring together the first two books. And I’m still not.
The characters in this book struck me differently than in their original stories which I wasn’t expecting. By far, Giddon is my favorite in this book, though I don’t remember liking him nearly as well in Graceling. Bitterblue is unsure of herself and unwilling to trust her gut. Even when she’s out on her own in the city, she’s constantly over-thinking and second-guessing her instincts. She is, at times, more annoying than endearing. Bitterblue does grow into her queen-ship and begin trusting her instincts, while at the same time gaining some modicum of closure about her parents. Po seems to have aged appropriately and I enjoyed his protectiveness over Bitterblue. He seemed a calming influence and helped the young Lady Queen settle her mind and make sound decisions. Katsa is more abrasive in this book than I remember from Graceling. Perhaps that’s because we’re getting her story through the eyes of another and her practiced control of softer emotions is most of what we see here.
This story, told in five parts, weaves together the characters and storylines of each of Cashore’s books. I was a little perturbed with the ultimate ties drawn between Leck’s transgressions, his advisers’ & servants’ roles in it all, and Bitterblue’s acceptance of the outcomes. I thought Saf and Teddy’s roles in the story seem a bit contrived just to provide Bitterblue with a love interest. Even the printer’s shop angle could have been left out and the story would have worked. *spoiler alert* If Bitterblue and Saf aren’t going to end up together, what was the purpose of their relationship? I also felt that the story drags as Bitterblue awaits news of happenings in Estill and news about Leck’s motivations. HOWEVER, the closure brought to Bitterblue and all our favorite characters from the Seven Kingdoms and beyond is satisfying and truthful. Healing is a process and Cashore makes it clear that some have traveled that long road and others still have a ways to go.
The writing in the book is phenomenal. I am (again) amazed at Cashore’s ability to describe emotions and setting with equal deftness. There were several times in during the story that I reread lines to savor her craftmanship. In her description of the girl Hava, Cashore writes,” When she looked up again, her eyes were still copper and red, but they sat in a face that was perhaps too plain to contain their strangeness, with a long, narrow mouth like a gash, and a snub nose.” This description encompasses Hava, not just physically, but also her character. She has hidden all her life with her strange power and her cutting memories. What an apt way to let the connotations of the words fill in the complete picture of the character. In addition, the illustrations and character lists in the back of the book really add a layer to this story as one can follow Bitterblue’s progress through her castle.
Ultimately, I feel Bitterblue was a sound finale to Cashore’s tales. I wasn’t completely overwhelmed with its magnificence but I think maybe that’s the point. Bitterblue discovers that there’s more to herself than her station and that life does not come with easy answers. Cashore has left us with answers to old questions and a point from which we can imagine the good that can come from accepting that it takes time to put one’s past to rest.
SIDENOTE: For some reason, Bitterblue’s name has always bothered me. Even if Leck was a sadomasochistic jerk, the choice of name doesn’t seem to fit with the other characters. Po, Katsa, Fire, Ashen, Brigand – all very short and fitting and yet Bitterblue’s own moniker is a mouthful and a little without hope. I realize that most of the names carry some symbolism but I feel that perhaps Bitterblue’s name is more symbol than name. And I wonder why she doesn’t end up with a nickname as many other characters do. Also, I wasn’t ecstatic about the cover. Graceling’s and Fire’s covers contained symbols that matched each of the main characters. The keys on this cover tie more closely to Leck than to Bitterblue. I would have liked to see a crown as is used on the title pages of the book. I’m not sure how I feel about the UK/AU cover.