Okay, we need to talk about Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue.  Which is to say, this is a book that needs to be talked about, so right off the bat Miss Cashore has already won.  Apart from that, this is a different book to not only Graceling and Fire, but also other books in its genre.  It is special, or graced.

The last king of Monsea was graced with the ability to alter people’s minds, to alter their memories and perceptions, to make them do whatever he wanted-and King Leck wanted a great many vile things.  Over 35 years, he brought agonies of all kinds to everyone in his kingdom.  After his killing, his 10-year-old daughter Bitterblue ascended the throne.  Now it is eight years later and Bitterblue wants to assume the true power and purpose of a queen, rather than relying on the advisers who ran the kingdom for her as a child.  But Bitterblue isn’t sure what her kingdom needs from their queen.  How can she take her true power when she knows she isn’t being told about the present?  When she cannot get clarity about all that really happened under the reign of her father, even in her own foggy memories?  When her friends’ Council begin altering the politics and balance of power in the Seven Kingdoms, making the future dangerous?

Bitterblue’s story is different from other heroines.  She undergoes not one great journey, but dozens of curving, creeping quests that tangle around all she needs to know.  Bitterblue must explore her city, cope with her past, encounter first love’s sparks, learn who she truly is, and decide how to fit it all together so Monsea can finally heal.  Through a labyrinth of secrets and lies, Bitterblue strives to find truth, history, and good, but above all, she wants the ability to make things, everything, or just something, better.

Bitterblue’s world is complicated.  It moves with a depth and a realness that gives this story force.  Some may say ‘slow’, but that’s only looking at things from one angle.  As a mystery Bitterblue might be disappointing, even with all its twists.  As a fantasy novel, this work is short on action, villains, and glitter.  As a romance, it certainly falls by the wayside, particularly considering Cashore’s previous works.  For those who want an epic, graceful conclusion to the series the end does come quickly and without really tidying things up.  As a whole, living, breathing tale, Bitterblue’s world makes sense.  It pulls you in, it intrigues you, it comforts you, it moves you, and it includes a lot of things to both love and deplore.  Bitterblue is strong enough to lend something to those working through their own wounds and memories, while never bypassing or sugar-coating the pain or problems that come with that work.  Bitterblue is a strong book to send out into the world, and its satisfaction waits for those who want to find it, who want something deep, and dark, and awful, and beautiful.  Those who just want to read a well-written story, or to follow along on someone else’s adventures might not be able to find it.  That does not mean it is not there.

Extra thoughts:

-I wish people would stop complaining about the romance.  It wasn’t a romance, was it?  It was attraction, affinity, and a physical waking up.  All that was written beautifully.  I found it perfectly believable that this is what happened for Bitterblue, and I felt the boy was the right person for her to experience that with.  Also, just think what Katsa would say to characterizing her story just as a romance, or rejecting Bitterblue for the reason that she’s not really about getting a partner!  Spoilers: I understand that during the actual events of Bitterblue Giddon’s calm support is much more what she needed, but come on.  That does not equal romance.  Besides, what would a young girl actually want at that time?  Saf is someone she figured out herself, someone she could play with parts of her identity with and allow herself to explore new feels more freely, someone she could act forceful around-could slap, and fight, and know herself to make mistakes without it overwhelming her because he, after all, asked for it.  As a first-attraction/crush Saf works splendidly.  Yes, I see that Giddon/Bitterblue ship makes a lot of sense for her ultimate marriage and partnership, but a big part of this is that she is so not there yet.  It’s all okay.  Moreover, I remember having a much more adverse reaction to Giddon in Graceling than I ever did with Saf.  Saf’s issues stem from a strong sense of independence, where Giddon’s were more about patriarchal values and possessiveness.  Not to mention, if Giddon can improve so much in eight years, if Saf does come back after awhile, who’s to say he won’t exactly fit the picture of a good husband for Bitterblue by then?  Not that I’m advocating that, or think it should happen-I much prefer him as just the first love who must be lost.  Still, though, Giddon…I don’t see any real chemistry there.  Don’t forget, the reason she decided to talk truthfully to him was because she did not expect to be too close.

-I am incredibly jealous of Saf’s grace.

-I loved each and every connection toFire.  I loved how it was so integral to the story.

-Po’s story felt wonderful, and I love him, but he did start to feel a little too much like a plot device in there.  That’s my main nitpick with the book, actually.

-Katsa/Po from the outside is pretty much exactly like I expected it to be.  I wish I’d been a little bit surprised in there, somewhere.

-I adore Hava and want some sort of extra story or journal or, actually, make that an illustrated book of works for Bellamew.  Who doesn’t want to see those sculptures???  Get on it!

-Also, I’ve grown incredibly fond of Death and his Lovejoy. Spoilers: So much, in fact, that when the fire that burnt the journals happened my main concern was how upset it would make Death.

Spoiler: Brigan’s daughter must be running the whole Dell Army!  Hurrah!  That little detail made me happy.

Spoiler: How come we never find out for certain whether the pocketwatch does tell Dellian time or not?

Spoiler: Why is paint what Leck would use to try to ‘destroy’ sculptures?  Aren’t there chisels or sledge hammers or crow bars?  We know Leck was adept at swinging knives around, surely he could extrapolate.  I half expected them to find out that he wasn’t really trying to ruin them, but was trying to make them look like Dellian monsters by adding the bright colors.

-In my head Raffin and Bann ultimately live in two rooms: one full of medicines and experiments and the other full of buttered crumpets and other fluffy things, of edible and furniture varieties.

Spoiler: The person whose lies I was most upset about in this whole thing were Holt’s.  The other culprits were made very clear early on.  While Holt’s involvement was also pretty obvious it was not clear that he was involved willingly for so long, and he was so good and…fragile all the time.  I felt like his struggles were some of the clearest and they touched me more than a lot of other ones.  I am incredibly glad that he was the first one to receive a new Bitterblue task.

-I like Fox.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to get a side tale about her in her family life?

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sinistmer
    May 21, 2012 @ 11:56:08

    I am currently reading Bitterblue! Your review made me very excited. When I finish, we should discuss it!


  2. wheresmytower
    May 21, 2012 @ 17:26:51

    I’m glad you didn’t have to wait that long to get a reading copy! Yes, I wonder what you will think of it.


  3. sinistmer
    May 25, 2012 @ 13:11:55

    I just finished it! I am in the process of writing my review, but we should have a conversation at some point (e-mail works..I also do have Skype).


    • wheresmytower
      May 25, 2012 @ 14:14:07

      Well, since you’ve just finished reading it, why don’t you start us off on email? let’s see how that goes, so we don’t have to worry about timing and scheduling so much. Then, if we get into some sort of snaggle where we think realtime is necessary we can switch to skype! It sounds like you liked things that I did too, though, and that your main issue was the same as mine-overuse of Po. I look forward to hearing more!


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