Bitterblue ~ Kristin Cashore

  • Title: Bitterblue
  • Author: Kristin Cashore
  • Series: Graceling Realm, #3
  • Genre: Fantasy, YA
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  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:  This was a strange book, childish and naïve on one hand, impossible to put down on the other. YA is not my favorite genre, but I read Cashore’s first novel, Graceling and loved it, so I decided to try this one. I wasn’t disappointed. Reading this story felt like eating a chocolate cake: a rich, bittersweet taste of a charming heroine, coated by the tangy icing of politics and betrayals, plus a small cherry of romance.

Eighteen-year-old Queen Bitterblue has been queen since she was ten. Her late father, King Leck, was a mad despot with the terrible ability to control people’s minds. He could compel anyone to believe what he said and do what he wanted. Even now, eight years after his death, the fog of his lies lingers. The minds, cruelly twisted and befuddled by Leck’s mendacity, continue his bloody perversions long after their master expired.

Bitterblue senses that her kingdom is still sick, her citizens still suffering, and she desperately wants to heal them all, but her counselors conceal the truth from her. To find out the secrets behind their smooth words and their mountains of paperwork, she sneaks out of the palace at nights, makes new friends in unexpected places, and discovers a complex knot of treacheries and deceptions. It is up to her to untangle the conspiracies, expose the traitors, and dispel her father’s horrifying legacy once and for all. But her hardest challenge is to figure out whom to trust, to separate allies from enemies.

Many of the characters from Graceling reappear in this book, but it also boasts a slew of new personages; some of them flat and boring, others very colorful. Among the newcomers is a thief Saf, Bitterblue’s romantic interest. In the best traditions of the fantasy genre, the young queen falls in love with the most unsuitable man, and their turbulent, utterly teenage relationship, adds spice to the already multifaceted character of our heroine.

Bitterblue’s controversial nature makes her into a living girl inside the pages of her book. One moment she is an unquestionable ruler, fearless and ruthless. Another – she is a frightened and vulnerable orphan, unsure of herself, bemoaning her plain face and pining for an unattainable guy. Actually, the story would’ve benefited from Bitterblue being less prone to self-pity, but I liked her anyway.

She stirred my maternal instincts. I wanted to hug and kiss this lonely girl and tell her everything would be okay. I wanted to know how her story ended. Not once in this pretty long novel – over 500 pages – was I tempted to stop reading, although sometimes the plot slowed down, like an interlude in a theatrical production: musical curlicues instead of a straightforward momentum.

One of my few complaints about this novel is that most characters behave as much younger versions of their supposed ages. Bitterblue doesn’t think or act as if she is eighteen, more like fourteen. Her cousin, prince Po, one of my favorite characters and a transplant from Graceling, often conducts himself like an eighteen-year-old boy, instead of a man of about twenty-six, his age according to the timeline.

Another problem I have is with the idea of the Council – an international organization of freedom fighters. The notion is immature at best and laughable at worst, absolutely unbelievable. Just imagine: Bitterblue’s friends setting up revolutions everywhere and deposing bad kings. Please!

But the difficulties of the aftermath of Leck’s dictatorship, when a number of people want to forget and move forward, while others need to remember to start healing, shows the author’s wisdom far beyond her target YA audience. The situation is fraught with tension and horribly real, even though it takes place in a fantastic milieu. There are some similarities with what happened in Germany after the WWII, although I’m not sure it was intentional on the author’s part.  

Overall, an absorbing read and a delightful female protagonist. Recommended.