Hardcover, 563 pages
Published May 1st 2012 by Dial
Age Recommendation: Young Adult
Summary (from Goodreads): 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.
Bitterblue was very different from Graceling and Fire, and although both Graceling and Fire are favorites of mine, I fell in love with Bitterblue. There were so many layers of the story that Cashore seamlessly weaves together.
It took Kristin Cashore three years to write Bitterblue, and it shows in the careful craft and weave of the story. This is not a book that could have been written quickly. It is complex and layered, and has clearly created by a master's hand.
The cast of characters is quite extensive, and at first it's easy to mix up some of them (the advisors especially take a while to gain their own personalities) but after the story is completed, it's hard to imagine each one without such distinctive traits. There's also a list of characters in the back, but it gives away some spoilers, so it's better to let the story define each character slowly.
I love Bitterblue the character. She's so different from Katsa and Fire, and most relatable of the three for me. There are no great journeys, and she doesn't have any special powers to deal with, but at the same time she has so much power that she can't necessarily control. No one in the story is completely truthful, and every step is a journey. Bitterblue has to find herself in order to find how to save Monsea.
Other than Bitterblue herself, my favorite character was the unsociable and sullen librarian, Death (pronounced to rhyme with "teeth"), graced with reading inhumanly fast and remembering every word he's ever read (I want!). At first even the reader is not supposed to like him, but he goes though such a transformation that I couldn't help but cheer up every time he was mentioned. Not to mention he is the one of the products of Kristin Cashore's subtle humor, which is of just the right type for me.
The first question most people ask when hearing about Bitterblue is, "Are Katsa and Po in it?" Happily, yes, Katsa and Po are in it, and they have some wonderful scenes together along with plenty of their usual banter, but the book really isn't about them.
Although the story does not follow a formal mystery plot, there is an element of mystery to the story. Or rather, several elements of mystery. No matter the situation, every character is keeping secrets, and its up to Bitterblue to discover the answers.
The pace is a bit slower than Cashore's usual fare, but it was just perfect for Bitterblue. Rather than dragging, it was immersive, and I loved every moment.
Bitterblue is a book I can't stop thinking about. When I finished, I immediately wanted to begin reading it again. I didn't want to leave the wonderfully real and beautiful story Cashore has created. I will certainly be reading it again, and it has earned itself a place with my favorites of 2012.