Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bitterblue - Kristin Cashore

Title: Bitterblue (Sequel to Graceling, Companion to Fire)
Author: Kristin Cashore
Publisher: Dial Books, 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 539 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: May 15, 2012
Finished: May 28, 2012

From the inside cover:
Welcome to a glorious realm of mystery, magic, heroism, and danger.

In a world where a small percentage of people have an extreme skill called a Grace, King Leck's Grace allowed him to to tell lies that everyone believed.

When Bitterblue became queen at ten years old, she thought her father's murder meant the end of his violent, sociopathic influence.

She was wrong.

The intensely anticipated companion to the New York Times bestsellers Graceling and Fire, is even more "rageful, exhilarating, wistful," and romantic. Now eighteen and believing her advisors are overprotecting her, Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle at night to walk the streets of her own city, disguised and alone-risking her life as well as her heart.

You don't need to have read Graceling or Fire to love Bitterblue. But if you haven't, you'll be dying to read them next.

Welcome to the Graceling Realm.

I read Graceling years ago when I first started this blog and fell in love with it. To this day I still recommend it to people. It was beautifully written, had well-rounded characters I fell in love with (including the then princess Bitterblue), and the love story between Katsa and Po is still one of the best I've read in a YA novel. I read Fire soon afterwards and enjoyed it, but not as passionately as Graceling because it was a companion novel/prequel and didn't have the same characters. Bitterblue is the sequel I've been waiting years for, and I wasn't disappointed, I'm almost glad it took two weeks to finish, it gave me time to savour it.

Bitterblue begins 8 years after the events in Graceling. Bitterblue herself is eighteen years old and has been queen since the age of ten, but is only now beginning to realize all is not right in her kingdom and her father's influence continues to spread even though Leck is long dead. When she has suspicions that her advisors are hiding things from her, she sneaks outside the castle walls at night to discover the true state of Monsea, and she doesn't like what she sees. When Bitterblue decides the only way to truly help her people is to first understand the extent of crimes committed by her father, people start dying; so she not only needs to figure out who is behind it, but also exactly what her father did that would lead people to kill to keep things quiet.

I loved the plot from the beginning. Bitterblue is now a young woman trying to not only figure out what she stands for as a ruler, but also as a person. She tries to reconcile her brief childhood under Leck's tutelage and come to terms with her mother's death by her father's hand. The politics in the book are interesting and not difficult to follow, and the social issues presented are equally intriguing (the literacy rates among her people and trying to reacquire old manuscripts Leck had destroyed during his reign. The story is very much about the search for truth and the need for it in order to move forward without repeating the mistakes of the past.

If you've read Graceling, familiar characters make reappearances in Bitterblue: Katsa, Po, Raffin, Bann, etc. The new characters introduced are essentially Bitterblue's staff from the castle: her advisors, spies, ladies in waiting (who also double as spies), guards, and citizens. Plus there's Sapphire, I have to give credit to the author for naming a character after a gemstone, it's one of my favourite naming trends. Plus Sapphire himself is just plain prickly at times, so I have a soft spot for him. The interactions Bitterblue has with the other characters (particularly Katsa and Po) are so incredibly heart-warming, strong and vulnerable at the same time. There aren't too many books in which I'm almost moved to tears by the description of a mere embrace, but the author excels in this area, as she did in Graceling.

I can't give away too much more in the way of details for fear of spoilers, but if you read Graceling, you will be dying to read Bitterblue. If you haven't read Graceling, I highly recommend you read it first (and then continue with Bitterblue) if you like high fantasy that is well written and has a good mixture of plot and character development.

Bitterblue is a fantastic sequel that doesn't disappoint, with a plot that moves quickly and doesn't drag and the same brilliant characters I missed so much. One thing I should mention for those readers who are easily disturbed, there are detailed accounts of Leck's crimes later on in the book, even more detailed than in Graceling (particularly the rape of young girls), so anyone who doesn't wish to read that sort of thing might want to tread lightly. Obviously this means this isn't something you buy for someone under high school age, unless they're extremely mature readers.

Thoughts on the cover:
Of course, I love the shades of blue, it goes nicely with the yellow tones in Graceling and the shades of red in Fire. The keys make a nice frontispiece and Bitterblue's face in the background is nicely integrated, I liked how it took me a couple glances to realize I could see more than just her one eye. The  cover itself under the dust jacket is a gorgeous purple with gold lettering, I usually don't mention what's under the dust jacket, but this one is an exception because it's just so darn pretty.

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