There are just many things to be said about Bitterblue but let’s start with the basics. It’s the third book in the Graceling Realm Trilogy by Kristin Cashore and it looks beautiful.
In Graceling, we entered a world of seven kingdoms where some people are born graced with any number of unique skills or abilities and where we first meet Katsa, seemingly graced with the skill of killing and under the command of King Randa. Katsa becomes increasingly frustrated and depressed about being used in such a cruel way and when Prince Po comes along their journey together slowly reveals just how corrupt the seven kingdoms really are. In Fire, we’re transported to The Dells, a kingdom of ‘rainbow coloured monsters and underground labyrinths’ where Fire, the last human monster is both hated and obsessed over, constantly assaulted for being so irresistible and who refuses to use her mind control to steal people’s memories and secrets.
By the time we come to Bitterblue, it is several years after King Leck’s tyrannous and torturous reign in Graceling and we follow the young Queen Bitterblue as she attempts to rebuild her kingdom; a kingdom that is still deeply affected by her father’s spell over them. But how can you rebuild something that is based on lies and secrets and despicable acts? Especially when the people who were most under Leck’s spell are the ones closest to Bitterblue?
There are so many things I love about this book. I enjoyed Fire, but as soon I opened this it felt like I was coming back home. I was eager to meet up with Katsa and Po again and it didn’t disappoint despite the fact that they weave in and out of the narritive. I think Cashore could easy have ridden the wave of their romance and made that the main strand of this book but I think this portrays a much more realistic and exciting relationship. It’s certainly refreshing to see these characters living their own lives, putting the important things first and not just glaring at each other with puppy-dog eyes. They are definitely not the puppy-dog eyes types!
I love how this story slowly builds momentum. We find the clues as Bitterblue finds them -one by one- linking what really happened during Leck’s time to just how many secrets and lies are being maintained within the city walls. I found myself even more confused than Bitterblue as to who to trust and who to investigate. However, I did feel like there was a lull in the middle where the pace could have been picked up and I just wanted to grab Bitterblue and shake her yelling ‘haven’t you learnt by now you can’t trust anyone, get on with it!’
I enjoyed the mix of the old and new here too. Whenever I think of Kings, Queens and castles, whether it’s in this universe or a fictional one I think of times gone by, but Cashore’s world is full of modern themes making no fuss over boys and girls fighting each other, same-sex relationships, sex before marriage, birth control, or a Queen who wears trousers and slips out of the castle at night to smooch with a thief. And is it just me or is it completely devoid of religion? Hallelujah!
Cashore has created an in-depth world of strong, kick-ass girls, epic sword-fights, passion, and intriguing mystery. Essentially, Bitterblue and those before it are about the abuse of control and power, facing up to horrible truths and having the strength to overcome the impossible.
Bitterblue is published by Gollancz and I received a copy in exchange for a review as part of their Gollancz Geeks Blog.