[Review contains spoilers for Graceling and Fire]
Eight years after Katsa defeats Leck, Bitterblue is still struggling as Queen of Monsea, dealing with the aftermath of her father's horrific 35-year reign. But despite forward-thinking policies, people cannot shake off Leck's ghost, and it seems that even dead, he has a strange hold over them. With mysteries no one can answer - attempts on her life, persistent illiteracy, strange night-time excursions by her advisors, the killing of 'truthseekers' - Bitterblue goes into the night and into the darkest pasts. She befriends a group of truthseekers who want to expose the crimes of Leck and his accomplices, and become targets for someone who wants to silence them and bury the truth. The more she uncovers, the more unstable her world becomes, but with the aid of her old friends Katsa and Po, Giddon, Raffin, Bann, and new friends - including Saf, a graceling thief and truthseeker - she may finally discover how to heal her kingdom and herself.
Bitterblue is a fitting conclusion, I think, to this series (if it *is* the conclusion?). As I started reading, I began to realise that it is Leck who ties these three books together, Leck to whom all the mysteries and horrors return: his rule over Monsea in Graceling, his past in Fire, and finally, his legacy, in Bitterblue. The destinies and lives of three very different protagonists in their respective books - Katsa, Fire, and Bitterblue - are shaped around the actions of this aberrant graceling. I think Bitterblue (the book) finally reveals as much truth as can be found about Leck, and imagines a way forward for all the Kingdoms - I loved that this book consciously drew together significant things from Graceling and Fire.
Of the previous books, people always seem to have favoured Graceling over Fire, but I loved *Fire* (SO MUCH) - Graceling, enjoyable but mediocre, had something missing to me, whereas Fire HAD it. Bitterblue has more of the elements that made Fire work, but where Fire was less plot-oriented and more character-centric (and vice versa for Graceling), Bitterblue was carefully balanced. The narrative does occasionally wander, but not unpleasantly. There's a fair amount of maths and technical content (ciphers, 15-hour watches and so on), which although I didn't try too hard to follow (TOO HARD XD), I do appreciate Cashore's thoroughness and effort in researching it. I also appreciate how the relationships weren't written intrusively, in a way that overshadowed and undermined the main story (Leck).
I enjoy the contrasts set up by the series also - fitting that following Katsa, graced with survival, and Fire, the monster and last of her kind, comes Bitterblue - very small and very human, and yet carrying the biggest burden of all - a whole broken country, where Katsa and Fire had only their own selves to direct. And the ending. It was...right.
I think people who enjoyed Graceling and Fire will find Bitterblue a satisfying and appropriate finale: to be read quietly and thoughtfully and without urgency. I hope this is not the last we hear of the Seven Kingdoms - although I'm sure we'll be seeing plenty more from Kristin Cashore in the future.
Bitterblue is the third and i believe final book in the Seven Kingdoms series and focuses on Bitterblue, the daughter of Leck. Carrying on from the first book, Graceling, it focuses on the kingdom of Monsea which is struggling to come to terms with 35 years of Leck's cruelty and evil. Bitterblue not only struggles with her own past as the daughter of a immensely cruel man who murdered her own mother but also with her advisors who are all hiding dark secrets.
Who can Bitterblue trust? Why are her advisors lying to her? Just what is going on in her kingdom and who is killing the people seeking the truth of Leck's crimes? This book is a utterly fantastic read, its quick-paced, vast in scale and completely gripping. Previous characters from the series make an appearance including both Po and Katsa. I must say i did love how Cashore thought to introduce some variation and includes gay characters in the book. However, what really made this book for me was that though the story focuses on Bitterblue you have a sense of this very real world where events are also taking place elsewhere. Characters come in and out of Bitterblue's story as they return and leave Monsea. The book creates a truly fantastical world on a epic scale and it all adds up to a truly rewarding read. Admittedly i cannot remember the first two books in any great detail (since i read them years ago) but nevertheless i think i'm justified in saying that this is better than both of them. I greatly admire Cashore's decision to write a book set in a fantastical world complete with humans with superpowers/special gifts , but the protagonist herself is just a simple young woman with no special powers yet is lumbered with the immense challenge of restoring a kingdom.
I must be honest and say that a little over a week ago i picked up Graceling and read it to cover. About halfway through I ordered Fire (book 2) and got a copy of Bitterblue which i finished reading earlier tonight. All 3 were excellent, well written pieces that sucked me in despite my doubts that the next book couldn't possibly be as good as the one that preceded it.
Bitterblue is a follow up to the first book and touches very little with the second storyline although there is some crossover. The story itself focuses on what happened after Lecks rule and how the kingdom responds to its freedom from his unique reign of tyranny, all seen primariy through the eyes of his daughter, the new Queen. The concept of the storyline is unique and the depth of characterisation and feeling the author is able to communicate about her characters is both moving and enjoyable. Many of the characters from the first book reappear consistently throughout whilst new characters enter the fray and each one adds a new dimension to the storyline rather than simply being flung in at the last minute. It is a quest for truth and understanding that kept its secret well right up until the very end where it finished with a nice dose of realism.
Pick it up, I can't see you being disappointed.
... depending on what you are looking for.
I was personally put on guard by the blurb on the front cover - when the book is described as "awesome" by the Romantic Times. The Romantic Times... really? I don't know what I thought anyone else was reading with Graceling and Fire, but I thought it was a novel about strong independent women and their ability to fight, succeed, thrive even, without the lucid interventions of romanticism (or men, a la Penelope Pitstop).
Now I know this is a YA series but I did enjoy the strength of character given to Katsa and Fire in the previous two books - so much so I wished their characters had been explored more fully (Fire was better than Graceling, but still needed a little bit more to make it real).
In Bitterblue, Cashore goes to the complete polar opposite in terms of her characterisation, the minutiae is explored, and it is to the detrement of the plot, which is slow and oh so cumbersome.
Bitterblue herself appears to be a slave to her rather weak feelings, be it for her people in general or two particular people. Cashore builds up relationships during the novel only for them to go nowehere (unless these are explored in later novels) and the ending leaves me completely unfulfilled.
I would recommend it as a read, as the writing in this is certainly accomplished. But it is a bit drab, and the characters are less powerful. Even the stolid Katsa appears to be reduced to mainly fawning around (or tumbling in to / out of bed) with Po.
More Twilight than Wednesday Addams in terms of strong independant females, but I am sure fans of the saga will still like it, and it hasn't put me off reading any future offerings in the Graceling world.
on 28 March 2012
I'm wavering between 3 and 4 stars for this review. For a book that I have waited so long for, I might say I was a tiny bit disappointed. But I feel like this tied together Graceling and Fire really quite well - I previously felt like they were far too different, and I didn't like Fire all that much.
The story is set 9 years after Katsa rescued Bitterblue from the evil King Leck, killing him and in the process establishing Bitterblue as the monarch of Monsea. Her inheritance is a damaged one - no one is quite sure exactly what happened under the rule of Leck, except that people went missing, others have horrifying partial memories, and no one knows the truth or wants to look too hard for it.
Leck's power of manipulating minds and erasing memories has a pivotal role in this story. In essence, this book is about a damaged kingdom healing, and a young girl doing her best to understand what has happened personally to her, and to her kingdom.
I spent a lot of the book as frustrated as Bitterblue was; things didn't add up, seemingly random events somehow were linked, and I had no idea why people were behaving as they did. This does clear up by the end, but it meant that I felt like the story line blundered along, blindly bumping into dead ends. I know that this was half the point, to make me feel the confusion the characters were, but I didn't race to keep reading. As the confusion cleared, I did become keener to carry on, and I was both pleased and horrified to get to the truth of what happened.
I was glad to see Katsa and Po take an active role in this book, but Katsa spent a lot of time away. In some ways, it was almost as if Katsa had to bow out of this story so that Bitterblue could be the leading lady. I missed her though. Po's role was developed well, and the implications of his fall at the end of Graceling were explored thoroughly.
All in all, I feel like this was more enjoyable than Fire, less enjoyable than Graceling, and tied everything up quite well while leaving the reader with some thoughts for the future. Bitterblue grew into her role as Queen very convincingly, and while I feel the ending of the trilogy was 'right' it has left me feeling a little sad too.
Right, cards on the table: I read Graceling when it first came out and loved it. I grabbed Fire when that came out and ab-so-lute-ly loved it - I've read it and re-read it countless times, don't know why it grabs me so, but it does. So Bitterblue has a tough two acts to follow...
I don't think this book works if you haven't read Graceling. Time line-wise, Fire comes first, then Graceling - and I thing you can read those two either way about, but Bitterblue definitely follows on from Graceling. B'blue is one of the secondary characters in Graceling and this book puts her centre stage. If you haven't read Graceling you won't understand the significance of having two different coloured eyes, you won't know how B'blue came to be on the throne, you won't know who some of the main supporting characters are, and most importantly, you won't know about Leck. And what Leck did is fundamental to understanding this book; it colours everything that happens.
The main storyline covers a shortish period of 5 months or so, and takes place in either the palace or its environs. It's essentially about how B'blue comes to realise that she is living in a bubble of mis-information and ignorance, and how she bursts that bubble, albeit with tragic, heartbreaking, unexpected and unintended consequences.
It's well written, although a couple of times I felt it could have been tightened up a bit; there's a fair bit about codes and ciphers (they're very important), a fair sprinkling of trauma - fights, assaults, descriptions of torture - that aren't gratuitously bloody or nasty, but also quiet times where friendships are created or strengthened. What came across for me is how lonely B'blue is - at one point she manufactures a reason to go to her healer, because that's the only place she can get some gentle human contact - and she has a great mass of inner grief and anguish that she has to cope with on her own -at times she really, really needed a hug.
This is a big book - 545 pages in my copy - all from B'blue's perspective. She's an engaging, tenacious, brave, thoughtful, clever young soul who holds center stage well, and has you caring about her, and most definitely rooting for her.
If you've read Graceling, you will enjoy this; if you haven't, read it, then enjoy being able to read this without the long wait!
Oh, one last thing, these books are listed in some places as Young Adult, but as a far from young adult I can say that they read well from more mature eyes!
on 4 October 2012
well, well, well....at least the various characters from the other books are shown, and their fates made clear...always nice to know how their lives went...but generally i agree with some of the other reviewers....slow, grinding middle, like threading water, waiting for bitterblue to get it...and then a fast, too fast, spiraling downwards-ending...did the publisher demand the manuscript by a certain deadline?...with all the problems solved by a dea ex machina, fire, coming back to answer the questions and solve the riddles, and promise peace and plenty for the future, with the aid of good and true friends...after the agony and soul-searching, and lack of self-confidence, and stumbling through foggy mazes, both physical and mental, after all the talk of evil, and power, and political control...the discussion of democracy, oligarchy, monarchy just disappears...nah, too easy and simplistic...obviously written for anxious, very young teenagers...left me cold...tho i will buy the next one in the series, whenever it shows up, since i like the world, and the weird figures in it...
It’s 8 years after Graceling. Monsea is free of Leck’s monstrous rule and is trying to move forward. Bitterblue now sits on the throne and her advisers are instigating policies aimed at pretending that Leck’s reign never happened but Bitterblue isn’t convinced that the policies are working. Concerned by what’s happening to her kingdom, as much as by the gaps in her own memory, she decides to disguise herself to see the city for herself. While attending the story-telling sessions in a bar, she meets Saf and Teddy – two young men who can tell her more about Monsea than any of her advisers. Bitterblue wants her kingdom to heal, but how can that happen when no one is quite sure what happened during Leck’s rule?
The conclusion to Kirstin Cashore’s GRACELING TRILOGY is intended to be a story about reconciliation with the past and healing a nation but the plot is muddled and filled with dead ends while Bitterblue as a protagonist lacks agency and spends much of her time waiting for people to tell her answers. While I had been looking forward to the return of Katsa and Po, their arrival simply created more unresolved storylines as their Council continues its work in deposing cruel tyrants and reforming their kingdoms. There’s a lot of repetition within the story with Bitterblue constantly asking her advisers what happened during Leck’s rule and them constantly avoiding providing answers, which would be fine if Saf and Teddy provided answers instead but unfortunately they get caught up in the obligatory love plot with Saf in particular behaving like an absolute jerk. I did like nod to FIRE and the sense of continuity and the use of cyphers in the story is interesting and well handled but ultimately this tiptoes around its subject matter in a way that really doesn’t do it justice. As a result, this wasn’t the conclusion I’d hoped for to this trilogy, although I would check out Cashore’s next book.
The biggest problem for me is actually Bitterblue. She knows something is wrong but never really confronts anyone (and when she does she backs off easily) and the love story with Saf plays out like every YA love story ever and Saf’s petty and sulky behaviour made me wonder what she sees in him. I just wanted some agency and determination on her part to drive the plot forward.
on 27 August 2013
This is a book of secrets and layers. Bitter blue works to uncover the mystery and the author keeps you with her - just. This was a very enjoyable read - but unfortunately I was at no point gripped. A good solid tale but no more.
Thank goodness I have finally finished this one. Unlike 'Graceling' and to a lesser extent 'Fire', this one really dragged. There was far too much focus on ciphers and politics as well as too much dithering with recording the main character's thoughts and feelings instead of letting the reader explore and intuit them. The plot seemed secondary to this dithering and, when actually considered on its own, was rather minuscule. There was a great return to characters we met and grew to love in 'Graceling' (welcome back, Po and Katsa!) and a fuller development of other characters met in 'Graceling' such as Gideon and Raffin, which was a definite positive, but other essential characters were left unexplored - who was Saf really and why did he act the way he did? And Teddy was such a delightful character - why couldn't we have greater development of him?
I see what the writer was trying to do in showing the effects of tragedy and torture on people as well as the responsibilities of a good leader, but somehow it fell flat for me, and instead of encouraging to think more deeply about this serious matter, it just made the book drag as it seemed out of place. Let's face it, Cashore's fantasy books are light-hearted novels with simplistic plots and happy endings. There is nothing wrong with this - this sort of plot has certainly worked with the likes of the Twilight saga. However, when one tries to combine these simplistic plots and underdeveloped characters with some heavy political theory and contemplations on the destruction of the human psyche, it just doesn't ring true, and this was the main problem with this novel for me.