Bitterblue has been sitting on desk for half a year. I kept it there as a constant reminder to start reading the Graceling Realm books. (I had Graceling and Fire already on my Kindle.) Months passed by, between reading, watching movies and writing, I kept delaying it. Like in December of every year, I kick my butt into reading those unread books collecting dust. Last week, I finally began Graceling, a few days later started Fire, and very early this morning, I finished Bitterblue.
Wow. The Graceling Realm novels are some of YA’s best high fantasy ever written. Author Kristin Cashore creates a wondrous and unique world with remarkable characters. However, Bitterblue is a sequel to Graceling, where Fire is more of a companion. Each book is loosely connected and can work on its own. Yet, I truly think reading them in the order they were published (Graceling, Fire, Bitterblue) is the best way to experience the story, especially in Bitterblue’s case.
Bitterblue takes place about nine years after the end of Graceling. The young Queen Bitterblue has reigned the Monsean kingdom with the help of her advisors for almost a decade. They’re trying to move the kingdom past the both physical and mental devastation that her horrendous father, the former King Leck, caused. Leck was a Graceling, a person with two different color eyes, who has a special superhuman ability. Graceling abilities can range from something harmless like helping plants grow to controlling minds or having super strength. In Leck’s case, he could control people’s minds, and for 35 years, he ruled Monsea this way, while committing disgusting crimes against humanity and animals. Bitterblue is at a loss of what to do to help kingdom both deal with and move on from Leck’s reign. She begins sneaking out at night to see the kingdom herself and how her people are faring. What she sees is quite surprising, causing a multitude of mysteries to surface in this hefty 500+ page novel.
Bitterblue is way darker and quieter than the other Graceling novels. Queen Bitterblue isn’t a fighter, although she can hold her own in a fight. Still, she isn’t like Katsa or Fire, the heroines in the other books. While Katsa and Fire are smart, it’s not on the same level of Bitterblue, who is much more adept at solving mysteries, deciphering codes and more. Therefore, this book has much less action, but I still found it just as interesting, if exhausting at times. Bitterblue’s story is quite complex. There’s many gaping holes in her memory, as well as many others. She’s desperate to fill them, in hopes that it will help her be a better queen and truly help her people move on. As she tries to discover more about Leck and the mysterious killings going in Monsea, more complications pop up. It’s hard to figure out who to trust, and it’s all rather unpredictable.
For those expecting a good serving of romance, you might find Bitterblue disappointing. There is a dash of it, but it’s never brought to forefront, like how it kind of was in Graceling and Fire. Frankly, as a lover of romance, I was totally fine with it, since there wasn’t a right way for it to fit into Bitterblue’s truth-seeking story. Yet, fans of the previous novels will be happy to see past characters return and see them in a new light through Bitterblue’s eyes.
All around, Bitterblue is a fascinating story. Don’t be put-off by how long it is; once you start, you can’t help but be in it for the long haul. Cashore continues to build and connect the Seven Kingdom and develop her characters in such interesting ways. Despite how fantastical the story is, the characters add some realism, making it satisfyingly relatable to modern readers. I appreciate those sensibilities that Cashore scatters throughout her stories. The Graceling Realm is a must-read for YA fantasy lovers. I can’t believe it took me this long to read them, but I’m happy I finally I did. I can practically guarantee you’ll love and appreciate these books, especially Bitterblue, if you choose to read them.
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