May 17, 2013

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

The more I see and hear, the more I realize how much I don't know.
I want to know everything.
-from Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Kristin Cashore's third novel set in the Graceling realm is a sequel to the first novel in the series, Graceling, and a companion to the second novel, Fire. Please note that this means there will be spoilers for Graceling in this review. Graceling is one of my favorite novels (and the first review ever posted on this blog!), so I highly recommend that if you haven't read it, go read it now and skip this review (for now).

Bitterblue takes place eight years after Graceling; young Queen Bitterblue has taken the throne in the kingdom of Monsea after her tyrannical father, King Leck, has been killed. Frustrated and overwhelmed by monotonous work in the castle and curious about what really goes on in her kingdom, the na├»ve but optimistic queen begins sneaking out at night pretending to be a servant girl from the castle. While she is out, Bitterblue befriends thieves seeking the truth about the tragedies that took place in Monsea during King Leck's reign. It doesn't take long for Bitterblue to see that her kingdom is not at all what it seems: literacy is atrocious, buildings are dilapidated and truth seekers are being hunted by those who wish to silence the history of Leck's madness. Bitterblue must decide which of her friends and advisors she can trust and learn how to best be queen in a kingdom still haunted by her father's terrifying reign.

It took me much longer to get sucked into Bitterblue than any of Cashore's other Graceling realm novels; at first the story is kind of all over the place. My biggest struggle was believing that it took Bitterblue eight whole years to finally become so restless that she sneaks out of the castle or wants to be more hands-on as a leader. There was little explanation to why she suddenly made a move to go outside the castle and I think eight years was just convenient for her age. I only wish the author would have made a greater effort at reconciling such a large time gap; I think it contributed to me not diving into this story as immediately as the other two books.

Once I did get into the story, Bitterblue does not disappoint, similar to its preceding novels. Fans of Graceling will be happy to read a lot about Katsa, Po, Lord Giddon, and Prince Raffin and what they have been up to in the last eight years; fans of Fire will also be happy to hear about the kingdom in The Dells. Similar to Katsa and Fire, Bitterblue struggles with the emotional oppression of a paternal male figure (King Leck) and must make reparations for the impact he has made on her personally and on the kingdom. Different from Graceling and Fire, however, Bitterblue reads more like a crime mystery as the reader pieces the kingdom's present story together right alongside Queen Bitterblue.

One major theme well fleshed out in Bitterblue is the many dimensions of lies and non-truths. Bitterblue struggles with not knowing the whole truth of her kingdom which implies she is being lied to, if not explicitly, then by being kept ignorant of important issues. When Bitterblue begins sneaking out at night, she finds herself guilty of the same non-truths. When she creates a false identity to the friends she makes at night, she finds herself outright lying. This brings to question: are all lies created equally? Is it appropriate to lie about certain things or to certain people? How much of the truth is acceptable to withhold? Who can you trust with the whole truth? Who can handle the whole truth? This book does an excellent job of explicating these questions and the answers Cashore gives may not be the ones you expect.

I really hope Kristin Cashore is not finished with her books in the Graceling realm. I would really love to hear how Bitterblue's reign continues as I was a little bit disappointed with the somewhat abrupt ending to this novel. With Cashore's talent for beautiful prose and fantastic storytelling, I hope she continues writing in this realm for many years to come.

Bottom Line: Read this whole series, especially if you love action-adventure-fantasy! This is not your average dystopian YA series, it's a step above the rest. 5/5 Stars

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