★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Four Things I Liked About Bitterblue:
1. Return to the Graceling world
2. Relationships between characters
3. Charming rogue love interest
4. Coming full circle
I’ve been a fan of Kristin Cashore’s books ever since I first read her debut, Graceling, a few years ago (3 or 4, I think?). Graceling felt really reminiscent of Tamora Pierce’s books, but without being overtly referential; the idea of gracelings is a unique and compelling one. It’s the strength of her female characters and the enjoyable blend of fantasy adventure, intrigue, and romance on the cusp between the early and later young adult demographic that brought Pierce’s works to mind. Having spent a good chunk of my childhood devouring Pierce’s many series, that was a very positive thing. I was excited to have found a new author that fit my somewhat narrow taste profile for fantasy books. And while the companion novel, Fire, didn’t quite live up to the standard set by Graceling (it may simply have lacked the extra dose of specialness that comes of being a new discovery), it certainly didn’t disappoint. And neither did Graceling’s recently released sequel: Bitterblue.
Bitterblue picks up eight years after Graceling left off. Bitterblue is a young woman now, ruling queen of the kingdom her father Leck (a corrupt king capable of controlling people's thoughts vanquished in Graceling, for those of you not familiar) left in shambles before he died. Stuck in her tower office day in and day out completing paper work and concerned by the odd behavior of her staff and the fragmented, conflicted reports she is receiving about her kingdom, Bitterblue starts to sneak out at night in disguise to see the state of the city outside her castle walls for herself. What she finds is that eight years later, Leck’s influence is far from over and her work as queen has only just begun.
I mentioned earlier that the target readership of Cashore’s stories straddles the line between early and late young adulthood, and for none of her books is this more true than Bitterblue. Some of the topics the book discusses, especially concerning the crimes the sociopathic Leck committed during his tyrannical and deranged reign as king, are quite dark for any stage of young adulthood, much less early adolescence. Cashore also kind of insidiously tackled some of our current political/social issues by including analogues in the story, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. Of course when you’re creating a fantasy world it’s entirely in your control, and there’s no reason why issues that crop up today shouldn’t crop up in your fantasy world too, but when those issues are so salient to modern political controversy, it feels a little heavy-handed to have them be controversial in a fantasy novel that may take place in a world technologically historical but its being released in a world rooted very much in the present.
Qualms aside, it was a pleasure to return to the cast of characters I grew so fond of in Graceling. And the three-dimensionality with which Cashore crafts her characters makes the story all the more engaging and the relationships all the more heartwarming – or upsetting, as the case may be. The new set of characters introduced for the sake of Bitterblue’s plotline were deftly integrated with the returning cast, and it was lovely to see her reach back to Fire, too, publishing an original novel, it’s prequel/companion, and a sequel all out of chronological order and yet having them all come full circle. Bitterblue also does a good job of tying up loose ends from Graceling, dealing with its own unique and pertinent conflicts, while establishing new subplots that could just as well be left as they are at the end of the book or be picked up and continue in a further installment. All in all, definitely a satisfying read for fans of Graceling and Fire, though perhaps less so for anyone who were to pick it up as a stand-alone.
Books Read This Year: 46
Top 100 Progress: 48/100