Review: Bitterblue (Seven Kingdoms #3) by Kristin Cashore

Adult UK book cover for Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

I can’t even begin to explain how long I’ve been waiting for Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore to be released. I adored Graceling and Fire, so I nearly fell over from sheer excitement when Orion sent me a shiny ARC of Bitterblue. I just loved the world of the Seven Kingdoms – it engrossed me so completely I just couldn’t wait to revisit with this book.

Plot summary: 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 thirty-five-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. 

The thing immediately grabbed my attention with Bitterblue is just how very, very long it is – at 576 large pages, it’s way longer than both Graceling and Fire. Long stories aren’t always a bad thing, but some parts of this book just didn’t seem necessary. Pointless trips to an art gallery or conversations that just didn’t need to happen. It does add to the character development, I suppose, but it did occasionally make me wonder if the story was actually going anywhere.
The style of the story is also a little different from the previous two books – the premise of the plot has Bitterblue wanting to help her kingdom recover from the damage her father inflicted, but she can’t do that if nobody will tell her exactly what he did.  It’s interesting, but hardly action-packed. She spends a lot of the time wandering around her own castle thinking about things, talking to friends and briefly standing in the town in the dark. When the action does come, it’s mostly second-hand, relayed to the Queen by her servants.

I did thoroughly enjoy Bitterblue though, and I don’t mean to put anybody off. I think I was just expecting something a little more similar to Graceling and Fire. You know – strong characters who fight their own battles, go on adventures and use their Grace to defeat their enemies. That said, the wonderful prose, description and atmosphere are just as amazing as they were in the previous books – Kristin Cashore is clearly a talented writer. It’s a long book, but it sped quickly by. Parts of this book also tie in very cleverly with the others and serve to bridge the gap between the two a little.

I just love the whole concept of Gracelings – normal, human people, but with odd-coloured eyes and a secret ability that varies from person to person. Po, for example, can mind-read, but only thoughts pertaining to himself. It’s just such a brilliant idea and the author demonstrates it wonderfully, but I do wish they’d had more to do with the story than cleaning the castle.

Character-wise, I liked Bitterblue. She makes mistakes, but not stupid ones and she seems a genuinely sympathetic, thoughtful Queen. One of the benefits of a dialogue and perspective based book is the detail added to character building and this comes across strongly in people like Bitterblue, Po, Giddon and a few other characters we already know and love. I have to admit, I found Katsa a little irritating though. She seemed like a caricature of the woman we knew in Graceling – the text always makes a point of how she’s ‘rushing’ here and ‘dashing’ there, and her temper tantrums are irritating more than endearing. It’s like the author went overboard on how impetuous she needed to be.

There is a romantic sub-plot, but it doesn’t really interfere with the plot too much. It’s fairly believable and I actually quite liked it. Perhaps I’ve mellowed from my I-hate-ALL-the-romance shtick… Anyway. I don’t really understand how Saf was included in castle life quite so easily and he acted a little too much like a… a… nasty person (my instincts inserted another word here, but I deleted it because it was rude and apparently my instincts need a rap on the knuckles… in my defence, he did act like one) for my taste. There’s a limit to how much abuse is acceptable, especially if One happens to be the Queen.

In short, I really liked it but perhaps not as much as Graceling and Fire. It doesn’t seem to have the same drive behind the plot and it didn’t really need to be so long. That said, I felt sad when I finished it – you know, where you know you’ll miss the world you were temporarily inhabiting and you know it’s going to be ages until the next book in the series. I think I’ll reread the previous books soon, and re-immerse myself in the Seven Kingdoms!

Visit Kristin Cashore’s website or find her on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Book Sake says:

    I totally need to read this series. I'm pretty sure the first book is on one of the bookshelves. While a lot of times books later on in the series aren't as great as the beginnings are…this one still sounds worth the read!

    – Jessica @ Book Sake

  2. In a way, I'm glad this is different to Graceling and Fire. Not because I didn't love them, because obviously I did, but because I think that Bitterblue seemed quite a different character. One of the reasons why I loved the first two books so much was that they just seemed to fit their main character so well. Bitterblue always seemed a lot more fragile so I'm pleased that 'her' book fits that.

    I'm also excited for more PO! Gosh, I loved him…*sigh* (At least, I think I loved him but it's been a couple of years since I read Graceling and I sometimes have the memory of an old lady :-s)

    1. Hanna says:

      Yeah, I see your point – Bitterblue isn't really much of a fighter. It's just that there wasn't really a whole lot of new plot, if that makes sense. You don't really learn a lot that's new.

      There is a lot of Po though, and I loved him in this book 🙂

      God, I can barely remember the first two books either, but I know I loved them. You don't really need them for this book though, as long as you know that Leck could make people believe his lies.

  3. Bitterblue (graceling) was a good book. Recommend anyone reading the character associations and maps at the end of the book before starting to read.

    Micky Johnson (Houston Search Engine Optimization)

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