Kristin Cashore’s first two YA novels, Graceling and Fire, were wonderful books and I was eagerly anticipating this third novel in the series. Although reviewers say you don’t need to read the first two to love this book, I highly recommend doing so as there is good character development and interesting plot interactions. The cast remains exceptional.
This is the story of BitterBlue, whose mother was killed trying to save her from her evil, sociopath father. He in turn was killed by Katsa in Graceling to save the Kingdom. BitterBlue takes place in Monsea, one of the Seven Kingdoms, with magic and nonstop action. In these books a few people have extreme skills known as “Graces” that develop as they mature. Some of the more interesting ones are assassin, herbalist, fearlessness, mind reading, and telling lies which are perceived as true.
At the end of the previous book, Graceling, BitterBlue becomes Queen at the age of 10. As BitterBlue opens, she has matured to the age of 18 and is becoming unsettled in her rule. She has begun to question her advisors and rebel at the mounds of paperwork (we can relate!); and she is intent on unraveling and uncovering her father’s horrific legacy.
BitterBlue is a strong female heroine: curious and extremely intelligent, though extremely sheltered (and at times seeming far younger than 18). In her restlessness she sneaks outside the castle and discovers an entirely different world.
BitterBlue was classified as YA science fiction, but it could equally qualify as adult fiction, romance and political thriller. It is a detailed book of vivid descriptions, though some are horrific and gritty and include details of abuse, corrupt power and betrayal. These are tough issues and difficult questions, but we live in a world with Serbia, Rwanda, Bosnia, North Korea and Iraq. While the characters deal with pain, sorrow, loneliness, depression and heartache, they also experience joy, love and developing friendships.
I sincerely hope the Graceling books continue with these developing characters, especially Bitterblue, Katsa, Po and Sky. My favorite character in this book was Death (pronounced Deeth), the Royal Librarian who is graced with speed reading and possesses a photographic memory for everything he reads.
This book is filled with interesting illustrations which serve to clarify locations. The romance is perhaps “young and scared,” but it is not the focus of the plot and I, personally, like that her characters don’t fit the “happily ever after” mode.
The first two novels in this series won several awards and were selected for a variety of reading lists, including the ALA Best Book for Young Adults and SLJ Best Book of the Year. I have no doubt this story will follow its predecessors.