BitterblueSequel to Graceling; Companion to Fire
by Kristin Cashore
Bitterblue is that rare sequel that not only lives up to expectations set by the first book, but exceeds them by quite a bit. Each book in this series is better than the previous one, and Bitterblue is an exceptional book: heartbreaking, deep, and beautiful. Kristin Cashore has managed an amazing and unusual feat: she created a genre story whose primary theme is healing, that is as mesmerizing and page-turning as any epic good vs. evil battle.
Because of the nature of this book, I'm going to have to give some spoilers for Graceling and Fire to be able to adequately discuss Bitterblue. If you haven't read those two books, I highly recommend you read them before continuing with this review. Before you stop reading, however, I wanted to take a minute to give a content advisory. Bitterblue contains some highly disturbing elements, and is probably not a good fit for most middle-grade readers. There are references to rape and torture that happened in the past, and although they are not explicitly described, there is enough implied to make them disturbing. Some of the things that were done to characters, or that they were forced to do, are truly horrific. Some of the characters don't deal well with this past: both suicide and cutting happen during the course of the book, for example. These things are handled sensitively and responsibly, but even so, some readers will not be ready for such heavy themes.
Spoilers for Graceling and Fire BelowBitterblue is now 18 and has taken her place as Queen of Monsea, with the help of four advisors who had served under her father and who were selected to aid her by uncle, King Ror of Lienid. Things are not well in the kingdom of Monsea. Bitterblue's father, King Leck, may be dead, but the shadow of his reign and his atrocities still looms over the kingdom. Essentially, the entire kingdom is suffering from a kind of PTSD.
Somehow, Bitterblue must find a way to heal Monsea and its people. But like everyone else in the kingdom, her memories are fuzzy from Leck's mind manipulations, and she is so busy with paperwork and administrative tasks that she doesn't have time to learn more about the kingdom. Desperate to understand her kingdom and her people, Bitterblue takes to sneaking out of the castle at night, disguised as a man. She discovers that things are even worse than she suspected. The city is falling apart and people are being killed, apparently to suppress the truth about Leck's reign.
Bitterblue is a deeply emotional book that deals with some difficult topics. Leck did things, horrible things, and it's fair to say that, even dead, he is the primary villain of this story. It's rare to see a genre book delve so deeply into the realm of the psyche and the theme of healing; topics such as cutting and suicide are more common in contemporary teen fiction. Kashore handles these themes and topics brilliantly and sensitively.
Bitterblue is a wonderful character. Much of the book is also a journey of self-discovery for her, as she moves out of the shadow of her father, finds herself, and learns how to be a queen.
All of the other characters are equally fascinating and well-developed, from Bitterblue's tormented advisors, who were hurt at least as much as anyone during Leck's reign, to the dashing sailor Sapphire and his printer friend Teddy, whom she meets in the city. My favorite new character has to b Display Comments Add a Comment