Opening line: “When he grabs Mama’s wrist and yanks her toward the wallhanging like that, it must hurt.”
I recently finished Bitterblue, the third in Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series (I read an interview that hinted there may eventually be another book–if so, yay!). Please note that the rest of this review contains spoilers for the first two books. So go and read them!
It’s quite a different book from both Graceling and Fire, just as Bitterblue herself is quite a different character from both Katsa and Fire. It’s quieter in some ways, but more intense with others, dealing more with the fallout from past events than sudden developments in the present.
In fact, it’s in the category of books that I usually think of as “after the war”–that is, books dealing with the aftermath rather than the event itself. I tend to like these types of stories, or at least to find them interesting in a way that straightforward war stories (fantasy or not) aren’t.
Bitterblue is helped by the fact that Cashore takes seriously the problems and questions that might arise after someone like Leck is deposed. Life cannot simply go back to the way it was before. And people have been affected in different ways; they will react in different ways. A lot of the tension and plot of the book come from the fact that people are dealing with this extremely traumatic experience more or less well. There are those who simply want to forget, to pretend it never happened. What the book ultimately points toward is a difficult balance, not looking away from the past, but not being subsumed in it either.
I’ve seen several reviews that found Bitterblue to be too quiet, or to be so different from the first two books that the reviewer seemed a bit non-plussed. I myself don’t agree. I think its quietness is perfect–it’s not a subject that lends itself to pyrotechnics. And it echoes Bitterblue’s character perfectly. She has a gentle strength that’s not reliant on physical abilities, or a Grace (in fact, she doesn’t have one). We need more heroines like this (Sarah Rees Brennan linked to a fantastic post about this the other day–I’m not a GoT reader/watcher, but I agree 100%).
Now, Bitterblue does have a lot going on, and it’s not clear until nearly the end how it’s all connected. Personally, though, I did feel like they all got resolved well and tied together in a nice cohesive manner.
So personally I found Bitterblue delightful–thoughtful but not too heavy, full of hope and quiet strength.
Book source: public library
Book information: Penguin, 2012; YA
There’s a nice extras page, including some of the illustrations, here.