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.
I'll start by saying I'm a huge fan of Kristin Cashore's novels. I was completely in awe of Graceling and Fire and can honestly say that there isn't anything I'd change about them. I'm sure they have their flaws, but I enjoyed every last bit of each page, line, and paragraph. That said, my expectations for Bitterblue were ridiculously high. Sometimes, I'm worried to read highly anticipated novels: I don't want to be let down after all the buildup. Bitterblue, however, didn't worry me one bit... Cashore took her time with this novel and I had a feeling she wouldn't send anything less than her best out into the hands of her fans.
I'm a long time lover of fantasy, but, too often, YA lacks the epic scope that first called me to the fantasy genre. This is definitely not the case with any of Cashore's novels. She's skilled at fitting an epic story line into a relatively small amount of pages (compared to, for example, the many, many volumes Robert Jordan and Terry Brooks employ). Perhaps it's wrong of me to compare these three authors - they are definitely all very different - but the world building and character development of epic fantasy is wonderfully present in each of these authors' novels and it continually surprises me that Cashore is able to do it so succinctly.
I adored Cashore's first two heroines, but I think Bitterblue is, ultimately, my favorite. I love her quiet, unexpected strength. I respect Katsa, but she's quite forceful... Bitterblue is exactly what Monsea needed to heal after the tyrannical reign of her father.
Like Fire and Graceling, Bitterblue also has a romance element. I'm always head over heels for the men in these novels... but Cashore never makes these love stories easy. And, though I yearn for happily ever after in every love story I read, I respect Cashore for creating and maintaining a necessary obstacles. In this way, despite the fantastical elements of these novels, they still feel real.
And it isn't just the romance that lends itself to realism. It's present in the growth and maturation of Bitterblue, the betrayal of those who promised trustworthiness, and the loss and suffering experienced while a country is at war. Cashore manages to offer her readers a place to slip away from everyday life, while still keeping their eyes open. It's escapism with a very real message. It's quite wonderful.
I'm forever recommending Cashore's novels and Bitterblue will be no exception. I seriously cannot wait to see what Cashore offers readers next. In the meantime, I'll happily revisit Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue.
Penguin/Dial, May 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 8780803734735, 545 pages.