So words cannot quite express the amount of excitement I had for this book’s release. I absolutely loved Cashore’s other two books: Graceling and Fire. I remember talking about Fire with a friend who’d read it before me. She told me it was better than Graceling, and of course my response was, “How can anything be better than Graceling?” And now when I find myself describing these books to people, I find myself leaning more toward Fire than I originally thought I would.
It is a rarity for me to ever really like book 2 more than book 1. Needless to say, I had high hopes for this one. I didn’t like this one more than Fire, but I was still really impressed with it. Instead of making this book about someone graced with a powerful ability or about someone considered a monster for their rarity and gifts, Cashore finally writes a book about someone normal…or as normal as a queen with no magical abilities can be. And while the characters of her other books lived through some seriously harsh situations, they always seemed to epitomize the word strength to me. They always kicked some serious butt. And I loved them for this.
Bitterblue, lacking in a grace, kind of comes across as the opposite. And it took me a little while longer than I was expecting to love her as a character. Sure, I felt sorry for her immediately. Her life was anything but easy. But, I didn’t love her until she really seemed to take on her role as queen, and my goodness did she take this role to heart.
The book takes place almost a decade after King Leck’s death. Leck, Bitterblue’s father, was as evil as evil tyrants come. He was graced with the ability to control people’s minds. And he did some extremely horrifying things with his ability. Bitterblue knows which people she shouldn’t mention Leck around at all, because each person who suffered through the man’s reign, is still suffering afterwards.
A lot of this book deals with truth. It’s about Bitterblue learning the truth about what her father really did, beyond what she saw. It’s about her advisers wanting to keep the truth about King Leck at a distance from Bitterblue and away from everyone it could hurt. It’s about keeping certain truths to yourself out of fear. And then of course it’s about dealing with the truth and suriviving with it, after you know it.
Bitterblue, in a rather Jasmine-ish fashion has to escape the confines of her castle at night, dressed as a man, to explore the land she is meant to be the ruler of. She finds herself loving the nightlife and learning about her people by going to various pubs and listening to stories. People tell stories about history, about King Leck, about Bitterblue’s famous and wonderful friends, and about so many things that Bitterblue has never heard. And these stories begin her quest for truth. Why does no one in her kingdom seem able to read, even when her advisors say that most can? And why is nothing quite as she is told it should be?
She befriends a thief and printer (Saphire and Teddy), and pretends to be someone she’s not. She learns about truth-seekers and people who work to steal things back from King Leck. Her new friends steal things her father had stolen and give them back to their rightful owners (in a Robin hood type fashion). Though, in a lot of cases, the things go to the owner’s children because most of the owners were killed by Leck.
There’s revolutions, new lands discovered, old friends joining up with new friends, romance, treason, hidden passageways, mazes, art, prisons, lots of betrayals, lots of owning up to past lies, kidnapping attempts, fighting, suicide, depression, and so much planning!
This was not an easy book to read. So much of it dealt with recovery. Leck raped, tortured, experimented on, ruined, and hurt so many people. The extent of his evil is fully learned by Bitterblue, after much digging, deciphering, and learning. All of the adults in this book had suffered so much. Everyone has lost someone. And it was horrifying to think of all the damage just one man could create.
I loved the power of words in this book! Between one character writing a book of words, all the characters writing in code, the bars where stories were told, the embroidered words Bitterblue’s mother left for her in her blankets, the journals Bitterblue and her awesome librarian deciphered and managed to use to learn about Leck, the powerless people’s illiteracy, and the illegal printing presses, so much seemed to about language, and it all connected so beautifully!
I also grew to love Bitterblue. Instead of complaining about her ignorance, she did something about it. She learned from her mistakes, and she went about solving her problems so bravely. She’s such an intelligent and loyal main character. Her attachment with characters from the other books was wonderful. Her friendships with people in the castle were adorable. And I loved how much she wanted to learn, how much she wanted to be queen, and how much she wanted people to be able to move on.
It did move a little too slowly for my liking. I’m not sure all the stuff about the revolutions and wars amongst the other kingdoms was necessary. Though, I really did end up feeling as Bitterblue felt, so frustrated and impatient for news or things to happen, and incapable of making them happen myself. Cashore knows how to write characters, create worlds, instigate action, prolong nice romance, and really just make a fantastic book.
I give this one a 10/10. I did not like it as much as the other two, but I really can’t find much in the ways of flaws. As with the first two, I’m still letting this book sink in a bit. I really hope Cashore continues to write, and I look forward to anything she would have to say in the future.