Bitterblue by Kristen Cashore

BitterblueA review by Rebecca Muir

Bitterblue is the third book in the Graceling Realm series by Kristin Cashore, following on from Graceling and Fire. If you haven’t read those books, then stop reading this review (because it contains spoilers in the next paragraph for the first two books), and go and read those books!

It is a great series. All three books have a strong yet vulnerable heroine, who has to come to terms with and deal with her own hurts and fears. All three women must also stand up and fight against the injustices and problems around them. It is an excellently written series with rich characters and compelling stories.

Bitterblue is set eight years after the events in Graceling. Bitterblue is established on her throne, but must now seek to heal the hurts her people acquired at the hand of her father. However, she cannot heal hurts she does not understand or even know about. Attempts to discover what really went on under Leck’s reign are met with silence or breakdowns from her advisors. She feels that she is not in touch with her people – she is shut away in her palace with the endless paperwork which seems to accompany running a nation.

So Bitterblue starts sneaking out of the palace at night, seeking answers.  At first, however, she just ends up with more questions. She feels like everyone around her is a little bit crazy. How can she discover the truth and bring her people healing and wholeness?

Her night-time wanderings bring her some new friends although they also seem a bit strange. There is Teddy, who collects words, and Saf, a thief with an unknown grace, who only steals that which is already stolen. They clearly have secrets of their own, but could they hold the key to the mysteries Bitterblue seeks to uncover? With the help of her new friends, as well as old friends such as Katsa, Po and Giddon, Bitterblue might just be able to understand the past enough to guide her future.

Bitterblue is a lot longer than Graceling or Fire. I think the same story could probably have been told in a shorter book, however I didn’t mind because I enjoyed reading it and was happy for it to take a while. Like Graceling and Fire, Bitterblue has an interesting and well explored female lead surrounded by a supporting cast of quirky and likeable characters. There is action and a mystery to unravel. Important themes are explored such as the importance of truth and what it means to trust someone. Not only does the web of lies Leck wove still need to be untangled and cleared away, but Bitterblue finds herself lying to those around her. She also has to try to sort out fact from fiction in what her advisors tell her. The book explores whether deceit to protect those you love is still a problem and whether there are times when the truth should not actually be revealed. Are there some things more important than truth or should truth always be told?

There is some very dark and confronting material in this book as the truth of what Leck did is uncovered. The Graceling Realm series is marketed for young adults but I would not recommend it for really young readers because of some of the more disturbing things it portrays.

I really enjoyed Graceling and Fire, and I was really looking forward to reading this book. It didn’t disappoint me. If you have already read the other books, then I recommend this one too. If you haven’t read Graceling or Fire (and what are you doing reading this far?), this is a series I highly recommend, but read it in order. They are well told stories, set in an interesting world. I hope there is more to come!