Bitterblue is the long-awaited sequel to Kristin Cashore's Graceling (reviewed here), a companion novel to Fire (reviewed here). Bitterblue takes place 8 years after the events of Graceling (and close to 50 years after the events of Fire). We find Queen Bitterblue, now 18, struggling to run her kingdom, Monsea. Her advisers, and the general public, remain scarred (literally and metaphorically) by the actions of Bitterblue's father, King Leck. Bitterblue's quest to restore and heal her kingdom is further complicated by the arrival of her friends from the Council (including Katsa, Po, and Giddon from Graceling). The Council is working in secret to strip power from corrupt kings running other kingdoms. Their presence puts Bitterblue, and Monsea, in danger. But Bitterblue (and the reader) are happy to have them there.
I haven't read very many other reviews of Bitterblue, but according to Melissa from Book Nut, the responses tend towards love it or hate it (she has some thoughts as to why this is). Personally, I didn't love Bitterblue as much as I loved Graceling or Fire, but I still enjoyed it, and find the story staying with me. I loved most of all being able to spend more time in Kristin Cashore's fanciful world of castles, battles, and graced individuals.
Bitterblue is not the strong heroine that Katsa and Fire were. She doubts herself, and lets her advisers bury her in mountains of paperwork. She has only patchy memories of her childhood (thanks to Leck), and a lot of her time is spent trying to figure things out (rather than acting). She's not graced. But she is, arguably, easier for the reader to relate to, because of her relative ordinariness.
There are in any event a couple of wonderful new characters in Bitterblue. I especially enjoyed Death (pronounced to rhyme with "teeth"), the Graceling castle librarian who remembers everything that he has ever read (an excellent quality in a librarian, wouldn't you say?). He's cranky and supercilious, but his devotion to knowledge and books is admirable. I also liked Hava, a girl graced with the ability to disguise herself as ordinary objections, and for all practical matters disappear. And there are some other neat new graces introduced in Bitterblue. The author seems to have an endless capacity for coming up with them.
I also enjoyed seeing Katsa, Po, Raffin, and Bann again, and seeing Giddon (who was fairly marginal in Graceling), come into his own as a character. I didn't care so much for Bitterblue's new love interest, but their romance is much less a focus of Bitterblue than the romances in Graceling and Fire, so this wasn't a major factor. There are also references to the world from Fire in Bitterblue (Leck's reign was influenced by the things that he saw when traveling in the Dells). These references made me want nothing more than to go back and read Fire again.
The setting in Bitterblue is fully realized. The castle is marvelous (though I'm not sure why the map of the castle is shown at the end of the book instead of the beginning). The political systems, both within Monsea and without, are complex and plausible. Even the geography is well-understood and conveyed - you almost get the sense that the author has spent the last few years actually living in the Seven Kingdoms.
Bitterblue is definitely a book for mature readers (I think high school, not middle school). There is a fair degree of violence. And the cruelties wrought by Leck, although described second-hand, are gut-churning. There are sexual relationships (both gay and straight), not described in detail, but alluded to with frankness. And there's a certain degree of intellectual maturity required to sift through the shifting memories of Bitterblue.
All in all, I think that Bitterblue is a worthy sequel to Graceling. It's a more difficult book (longer, more bleak, not so straightforward). But Bitterblue offers fans of the previous books the welcome chance to revisit The Seven Kingdoms and (to a lesser extent) The Dells, and to see what's been happening with Katsa, Po, Bitterblue, and their friends and family members. If you haven't read Graceling and Fire, I suppose you could technically read and understand Bitterblue. But you would lose a lot. I highly recommend going back to the beginning, and reading the books in the order that they were published. Anyone who enjoys reading about creative, fanciful talents and strong female characters will not be disappointed by the Graceling universe.
Publisher: Dial (@PenguinTeen)
Publication Date: May 1, 2012
Source of Book: Bought it
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