Publishing Date: 1st May 2012
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Romance
Page count: 547
Possible spoilers for Graceling, but not Fire.
Queen Bitterblue is trapped – she is trapped in her tower with the daily dealings of running a wounded and recovering kingdom, and she is trapped with how little she knows of what her father, the tyrannical King Leck, did during his reign. But Bitterblue is smart, brave, and capable, and she is going to find the answers.
I put off reading this book for about a year because I felt kind of ‘meh’ about Graceling, but I absolutely adored Fire, and I was afraid Bitterblue wasn’t going to live up to my expectations.
I was wrong.
The plot for Bitterblue sounds a little slow – there’s a lot of unravelling mysteries, murders, love, friendships, betrayals. But upon reading, the books sucked me in. Bitterblue isn’t Graced – meaning, she doesn’t have a magical power, an ability, an alarming skill that she can do better than anyone else in the world. She’s just a normal person trying to live up to great expectations, trying to figure out what Leck did to his people and how they can heal from it, trying to figure out why her people are being murdered, and wanting to know why remembering and learning are besieged upon by unknown forces and who is responsible. She disguises herself and sneaks out of her castle to spend time with the populace, of whom she knows very little, having been trapped in her tower for eight years. The people are trapped, too. They are trapped by unknowing, by poor education, by a willingness to ignore everything that happened to them in a madman’s thirty-five year reign.
Oh, Kristin Cashore. Be still my heart. Cashore’s writing is magical. Sometimes, as a reader, you are lucky enough to find a writer with whom you simply gel. Their writing seems almost enchanted – funny, and whimsical, and lyrical, with a smooth style that makes you not want to put it down. And the emotion I felt! I don’t think I have anything in common with Bitterblue, but I found her so brave and incredible that I cried right along with her when several quite nasty things happened to her. She is definitely one of my favourite heroines of all time. I’m not sure if it is intentional, but I found the voices in my head speaking with very refined, posh Oxford accents as well.
“Oh for mercy’s sake,” Bitterblue snapped at her advisors. “I’m proposing a walk to the smithy, not an expedition to the moon. I’ll be back in a matter of minute. In the meantime, you can all return to work and stop being annoying, if such a thing is possible.”
“At least take an umbrella, Lady Queen,” pleaded Rood.
“I won’t,” she said, then swept out of the room as dramatically as possible.
While Bitterblue was the star of this novel, and while it can be read as a stand-alone, fans of the previous two companion books, Graceling and Fire, will not be disappointed. Cashore handles Katsa’s appearances with diplomacy and aplomb, and ensures that Katsa never takes the attention away from Bitterblue, who is, after all, a queen. If you were a fan of Po you’ll get more than your fair share of him. And as for Fire, well, I wouldn’t want to spoil anything.
The new characters introduced are also adorable. The thieves Bitterblue befriends, those scallywags who only steal what has already been stolen (much like Robin Hood, I think), help to ground Bitterblue and are the turning point for helping her discover more about her own people, something of which she has been ignorant of for her entire reign so far.
I know some of the biggest complaints about Graceling and Fire have been about the sex-before-marriage aspect, about Katsa’s refusal to get married and dress feminine, and about the casual sex and adultery in Fire. You won’t find much of that here. It’s quite toned down, there is absolutely no preaching whatsoever. I felt quite comfortable during the read and although there is sex involved, Bitterblue is eighteen and quite capable of making her own decisions, thank you very much.
And truth be told, there are plenty of other relationships for us to explore: Bitterblue’s relationship with her deceased mother; her saviour and personal hero, Katsa; her cousin and other personal saviour, Po; Bitterblue’s royal advisors; the friendship that develops between the thieves; and the plenty of other castle relationships – you won’t be worrying about what Bitterblue thinks about marriage or babies. Quite frankly, she doesn’t have time to worry about that.
Overall, even if you didn’t like Graceling or Fire but found them both interesting enough in theory to pick up, I recommend you give Bitterblue a go. It’s high fantasy with a ‘normal’ human as the lead. She’s not magical, and she’s terribly ignorant about her people, and a little naïve, but she blossoms into a capable, strong leader and I just love her.