Monday, 16 July 2012

Book Review: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

First published in Great Britain: 1st May 2012
By: Gollancz

Eight years have passed since the young Princess Bitterblue, and her country, were saved from the vicious King Leck. Now Bitterblue is the queen of Monsea, and her land is at peace. 

But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisers, who have run the country on her behalf since Leck's death, believe in a forward-thinking plan: to pardon all of those who committed terrible acts during Leck's reign; and to forget every dark event that ever happened. Monsea's past has become shrouded in mystery, and it's only when Bitterblue begins sneaking out of her castle - curious, disguised and alone - to walk the streets of her own city, that she begins to realise the truth. Her kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year long spell of a madman, and now their only chance to move forward is to revisit the past. Whatever that past holds.

Two thieves, who have sworn only to 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, who possesses an unidentified Grace, may also hold a key to her heart . . .

My review:

I could have given Bitterblue anything from 3 to 5 stars. I didn't know quite what to say about it until I ran across something online, said about a television show, that I'm paraphrasing because I can't find the original source. But it went something like this: Do you enjoy this cast and these characters enough that you'd happily watch them sitting around and doing nothing but talking? If so, then the show is doing something wrong, because it means the plot is not hooking you enough.

That's similar to how I feel about Bitterblue. I enjoyed it because I love the world and the characters Kristin Cashore has created and I would have no problem reading 500 pages of Bitterblue alternating between walking around her castle and her city, and discussing life and love with Po, Katsa, Giddon and others. And after reading Bitterblue, it feels like that's exactly what I did do. The plot moves glacially, but the characters and the setting are amazing. Enjoyment of the book depends on how much you value the former over the latter.

I loved Bitterblue the person so much. I also loved Po, but then I loved him already in Graceling and was just glad he was around so much for Bitterblue. The big surprise for me was Giddon, who I didn't like at all in Graceling, but is developed into an excellent character here, once seen through a new perspective. Giddon was something of a bad guy in Graceling, because Katsa doesn't like him, but Bitterblue sees another side to him. Wonderful new characters are introduced, too. The prize for best goes to Death - Bitterblue's surly librarian - but Madlen, Hava, Teddy and Saf are all cool and interesting, too. I liked the way things went with Bitterblue and Saf's romance; I appreciated that the novel shows that not every romance is going to be the One.

Another great thing was the vivid description of artwork and architecture. Bitterblue has never seen much of her castle and city before now and as she explores them for the first time, the reader explores them with her. The bridges, the sculptures...everything sounds beautiful. I also can't say enough about the beauty of this book as a physical thing. Other blogs have some great photos of Ian Schoenherr's illustrations so you can see for yourself; I spent ages just staring at the pretty pages. That's the way to get readers to purchase a physical copy over an ebook.

We also finally get the story of how the world of Fire connects with the Seven Kingdoms and all three of Kristin Cashore's heroines meet at last. I really liked the talk between Fire and Bitterblue, with all its allusions to things from the other novels. (And I think I actually squeed when Fire said she'd been married for forty-seven years). 

All this accounts for why I got a 5 star feeling for Bitterblue. The 3 star feeling is for the plot and the pacing. Bitterblue is trying to piece together what happened when her father was king and the best way to describe the pacing is that it feels like everything happens in real time. Usually in a book or a film, we might jump ahead to the really important discoveries or maybe just have a 'research' montage. In Bitterblue it feels like we follow the queen every day and in every little thing, no matter how small. 

I'm a patient reader, so I could handle it. I honestly enjoyed Bitterblue and the others so much that I could have spent 500 more pages with them. Fans of this series are going to want to read this final (or is it? There are rumours) installment no matter what, so I hope I've just given an idea of what to expect when you do.

Rating: 4 stars


  1. I have heard of this series before reading your review. I have seen the cover around, but I have not looked into it. I have found that I can overlook a slow pace as long as the characters and descriptions are great. Have you read The Night Circus? The story is layered and develops slowly but the descriptions are so vivid that I desperately wanted the settings to be real. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    1. I have read The Night Circus and I loved it. I agree completely; it's slow but the descriptions are so beautiful and magical.

  2. Hm, interesting. I didn't love Graceling, but that was mostly because I didn't love Katsa. I did like the world and Po though. I tried listening to Fire on audio, but I'm so not an audiobook listener and I kept losing my place and so I finally gave up. I do want to pick it up again in proper book form though. It sounds like I should read Fire before Bitterblue. I'm excited for Bitterblue because I liked her a lot in Graceling. I'm glad you prepared me for the slower pacing. I think I can handle it in this case.

  3. I feel very, very similar to you. I thought the plot moved pretty slowly, but I love the characters so much that I'd read them just standing around talking.

    Giddon was rather fantastic though, a nice surprise from reading, ya know?

    1. I mean a nice surprise from Graceling to Bitterblue. Blah.


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