Saturday, August 10, 2013

Bitterblue (Graceling Realm #3) by Kristin Cashore - Ashley's Review

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Title: Bitterblue
Author: Kristin Cashore
Year Published: 2012

My Pre-Reading
Paul's Review

Synopsis: Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck's reign, and forget anything bad ever happened.

But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle - disguised and alone - to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the 35-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

Two thieves, who only 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, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn't yet identified, holds a key to her heart.


Review: I absolutely LOVED Graceling. I mean, I loved it so much that I think it might be one of my favorite YA fantasy novels (probably fantasy in general) that I've ever read. I loved the characters, the story, and especially the world, and I wanted to learn so much more about everything that I was so excited to find out about a companion novel. And then I read Fire, and I loved the characters and the world... but the plot was just not my thing. I struggled for so long to just get through the book, and I think the characters and the world were the only thing to make me get through. And then I saw that this book was coming out, and since it's a sequel to Graceling, I was excited again! Except for the nagging thing about Fire in the back of my brain... so I put off reading this book.

That was a huge mistake.

Bitterblue was phenomenal. It was Graceling all over again, but better! The world is already very much established by this point, but we learn so much more about people and places that I thought we already knew everything about. Cashore does an excellent job of incorporating characters and places from the past books and developing them further without even showing most of them for the majority of the book. Katsa and Po and all of their friends are back, and we get to learn so much more about Leck and his reign. There are even some things from Fire that show up, so that was pretty cool. And I'm glad I read the other books before this one - this book definitely needs to be the last one you read. 

I think my favorite part of this book was watching Bitterblue grow and mature and change. In Graceling, she's just a baby (I mean, she's like 9, but still.). And then all of a sudden she's thrust into this queenship, and has no idea about anything going on in her kingdom. And I admire her for being the queen that wants to know. Most monarchs would be happy letting their advisers and such do the work for them, but Bitterblue wants a firsthand knowledge of the workings of her kingdom. She relies on old friends, makes new friends, and has adventures all her own without even leaving her city. She starts out as a confused, weak ruler, but by the end of the novel has transformed (or is beginning to transform) into this strong, brave young woman who is finally ready to shoulder all of the responsibility. She still has room to grow, and I'd be very interested to find out more about her in another book.

The romance was also very well done in this book. I loved Saf, and I loved him with Bitterblue. The romance was very slow (it takes most of the book to develop), and it starts out as nothing more than the two being acquaintances and blossoms into friendship that eventually turns into something more. but confusing. There are so many speed bumps along the way, and Cashore does an excellent job of writing the two characters like real people. They aren't too forgiving, but they aren't too stubborn. Bitterblue doesn't go in her room and cry for forever and neglect her work, and Saf cooperates even when he's mad at her. It's a very interesting relationship, and I'm so interested to find out if things ever work out for them (things are left so open-ended!). 

I also really loved Teddy. I think he's my favorite new character, and I just wanted to give him a hug and be his best friend throughout the whole novel. I want to know more about him too, although we do get a good look into Teddy and Saf and their sisters. 

The plot does become a little convoluted at times and left me a little confused, but everything eventually comes full circle. It's not exactly a straight story - things don't always start at point A and end up at point B - and we're sometimes thrown into the past without any warning or any context, but Cashore makes it work. It wouldn't be a good fantasy novel if there weren't 1000 plot lines and issues happening all at once! The inclusion of the ciphers really strengthens the plot too, and I thought that they were all ingenious. I loved the system that Bitterblue uses to cipher all her notes, and I just think it's so clever.

Overall, this book was absolutely fantastic. It exceeded my expectations, especially after Fire, and I would definitely recommend it to fans of the series. If you haven't read any of these books, definitely start with Graceling and read them in published order. I would totally suggest this to any fans of fantasy novels, especially YA fantasy. I think anyone who enjoys Rae Carson's Girl of Fire and Thorns series would really like these books. A 5/5! 


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