Mind-Games Level 100 in Bitterblue || BOOK REVIEW

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

5/5 STARS

Genre: Young Adult, Epic Fantasy
Author: Kristin Cashore
Published: May 2012
Publisher: Firebird
Pages: 563 {paperback}

Originally posted on Goodreads

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This review is spoiler-free until I state otherwise


Initial Thoughts Upon Finishing

That was insanely good. What a stunning end to this series. I’m glad I read this slowly because I don’t really want to leave the Graceling realm at all! What I was particularly amazed at was in the author’s notes when Cashore talks about her writing process – that sure gave me some hope for my own writing endeavours! This was such a whirlwind of a story and there’s so much to digest. Mysteries within mysteries, plot twists within plot twists. Loved it.


Bitterblue

I’m still sitting here, a few days after, unable to come down from my fangirling hype of this book. This was such a good conclusion to this series — like I can’t put into words how much I enjoyed this.

It follows Bitterblue’s story from where we left her at the end of Graceling. But before I dive into that let’s have a few words on how this series works. The Graceling Realm has three books and at the end of the day they act more as companions stories than anything that follows chronologically. I would recommend reading them in the order published (Graceling, Fire, Bitterblue) because that way you’ll get to know the characters in the best order and understand what is happening in this book much better. Else you might think people are crazy including the author (she’s clearly not, I’d love to pick at Cashore’s mind).

In hind sight, however, I also still don’t understand the point of Fire all that much (even though it was a very enjoyable story) — it did feel a little at odds with the rest of the series. But that’s my one and only negative point. Each of the books do have something that contributes to the overall story and my god, is it a complicated world.

I’ve seen a lot of people complaining that they didn’t understand this book. But . . . do they not understand the plot? The events of this book that follow contain mild spoilers for Graceling, as a warning.

Bitterblue has just inherited her kingdom from her father after he was finally assassinated. King Leck was a graceling and had the ability to tell lies that were believed. HE WAS ON THE THRONE FOR THIRTY-FIVE YEARS, GUYS. The kingdom is messed up. His powers manipulated every single person (THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE) into believing whatever he told them. He tortured them, made them commit heinous crimes and now no-one can really remember anything.

Bitterblue was greatly affected by this being someone who was close to him (in the literal sense) and this book is her journey trying to find out what’s really going on in her kingdom, what really happened during his reign and deciphering the confusing clues left behind.

At the end of the day, this book is the greatest fantastical murder-mystery I’ve ever read. I was guessing at where things were going to go right until the end and I honestly didn’t see a lot of it coming. I LOVED it. I’m also very sad that it’s now over so don’t bring that up lest I rage.


What Made it So Enjoyable

The best things about this book, for me, were the characters. The return of my beloved Po and Katsa was amazing and the complexity of not only their issues but everyone else’s was enough to give anyone a headache. Bitterblue I found to be a very likeable character who read as both mature and childish. How? She comes across as a regal queen willing to make big decisions and help the masses but it ultimately held back by her past which, whenever brought up, seems to inadvertently revert her to a younger mindset. It’s a bit difficult to describe but you’ll notice in the moment when she’s clear-headed she makes independent decisions; when she’s confused she refers to other people and is more prone to have a tantrum.

It’s a heart-breaking journey and Po was a saving grace (pun?) for her sanity. He was the best big brother she could have asked for. The book is such a page-turner because of the character driven plot line, but it also greatly benefits from having so many issues derived from Leck’s reign that are slowly and gradually addressed and solved. It’s a satisfying read to people who like to get to the bottom of things.


Cyphers

I just wanted to add a quick word here on how clever the cyphers were! When we discover that particular thing about the embroidery I thought it was seriously cool. It added another layer to Bitterblue for me, I so enjoyed how intelligent she was and how much she enjoyed complicated mind-games like these. But yes, the cyphers were an awesome addition to a plot line about everything ever being confusing.


Characters

THIS SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS
SKIP TO SUMMARY TO AVOID

I’ve already talked about Bitterblue above, so I’ll be brief here. I was always very sad for Bitterblue and everything she’s endured. I shared her frustration when her advisors — Thiel in particular — lied to her for her “own protection”. I wanted to slap them with a fish and remind them that SHE IS QUEEN AND NEEDS TO KNOW THIS STUFF. In contrast to the general depression of everyone in her castle, I loved her vivacity and the constant references she makes to how much she wants to live – it made it seem so right that she should be queen.

But of course once we later discover the atrocities that Leck made Rood, Runemood, Thiel and the others commit you do a little back step, mutter sorry and pretend you weren’t so angry with them. I mean, can you even imagine how horrible that would have been? Oh poor, Thiel.

My favourite character in this book was Death (rhymes with teeth). I loved, first and foremost that Bitterblue pronounced his name wrong on purpose to annoy him, but most of all I loved that he was a tough nut to crack but actually really loved the work she set him. Plus his cat Lovejoy obviously gave him bonus points in my eyes. He was interesting in that he seemed fairly mentally sound compared to the others, considering he too had lived through Leck. It was amazing that he was mentally able to cope with that had occurred and that that was Bitterblue’s saving grace: that he could face the horrible facts for her to help her better rule her kingdom.

Katsa was a firecracker in this book. It’s been a while since I’ve read Graceling so I couldn’t quite remember what she was like. I was sad that she wasn’t in the story a bit more — but at least she is absent for good reasons *flashbacks to Lucien in ACOWAR*. Ahem. I seriously enjoyed how any intense reunion between her and Po was a dramatic run into a hug that ended in a brawl.

Po was tragic and amazing. His mental battle against the morality of his grace made me want to give him a big squeezy hug. Also because Bitterblue worked that man damn hard, geez. It was particularly interesting reading Cashore’s author’s notes at the back because she addressed this particular point of the story and made reference to her feeling guilty for basically “magically curing” Po of his disability, now that he’s blind. But I thought she’d done it well enough to not make it a cop out. I mean, he has a pretty rough time of it and it’s a well-developed issue. The only thing I didn’t understand was the repeated reference to Po flying a paper plane . . . what purpose did that serve?

Saf was obviously brilliant. A real mischievous character whom you fall totally in love with. I really enjoyed the hilarious and petty fights between him and Bitterblue — particularly once he discovers she’s queen. I saw myself in those moments, I too would steal your crown just to piss you off and then feel pretty great about myself. My favourite moment had to be when Bitterblue calls for Po to save him when he’s being sentenced to hang for a crime he did not do. A) Po’s acting, gawsh, B) Saf’s face. BUT LIKE, MORE IMPORTANTLY: his grace?!! NICE DREAMS. Somebody — quick! — fetch me a man who can give me good dreams.

Fox I never trusted and was not surprised when she turned out to be Gray. A better characters whose growth throughout the story I enjoyed more was Hava. Bless, I felt so sorry for the life she had led and when the book starts hinting that she’s Bitterblue’s half-sister I was dancing with glee. I wish we’d had more interactions with them, I’d’ve liked to have Bitterblue and her more as sisters (even though Hava doesn’t want anyone to know).

Let’s take one moment to appreciate how tragic Thiel was. The advisors were possibly the most frustrating part of this story. We know they’ve been traumatised and can’t bring themselves (literally) to discuss what went on during Leck’s reign, but it made for a repetitive scene where Bitterblue asks questions and they all have meltdowns. Which worked well at getting us to really feel Bitterblue’s frustration – like I KNOW YOU CAN’T HANDLE IT BUT FOR GOD’S SAKE, MAN, GIVE ME THE TRUTH ALREADY. But when Thiel commits suicide by jumping off the bridge I was like, welp: who’s next? It did feel a little bit like that at that point. Leck’s reign of mental deconstruction = breakdowns and mass suicides a decade later.

Teddy, though, someone get me Teddy. What a sweet character, Cashore can we please have a novella on him? A whole book? An entire series? Thanks. I loved that his plight was to help educate the population by reading. It was such a sweet goal and his faith in others was amazing and heart-warming.

Madlen is another character worth discussing. I seriously didn’t see her as a spy coming right up until the moment that Bitterblue makes the connection. That made the tying together of Fire’s kingdom much cooler and sensible to me. Also, she’s such a wicked healer and the fact that it’s not her grace but that their science is just more evolved was awesome.

Fire surprised me. I loved that plot line uniting at the end with her turning up after Katsa gets through to their kingdom. I wasn’t sure who she was for a few seconds because I forgot Fire’s story takes place much earlier. That was awesome though!


Summary

So yes, after writing you a long essay of words I think we can safely say I rather enjoyed this book. I highly recommend it as a series and highly suggest reading it in publication order. It makes me sad that people thought this was slow-going or nonsensical, because I thought it was an incredible story of a kingdom waking up and trying to fix itself after 35 years of intense mind-fuckery (it really is the only word to describe what has gone on here). So on that note, on your bike! Go grab yourself a copy of this series and get reading!!


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Have you read Bitterblue?

What did you think?!


Happy Reading

~~ Kirstie ~~

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