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October’s Your Pick for Nik!: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Title: Bitterblue

Author: Kristin Cashore

Series: Graceling Realm #3

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea, still under the influence of her father Leck, a violent psychopath who altered minds. Her advisers want to pardon evildoers and forget everything, but she sees the past holds fast. Two thieves, who only steal what has been stolen, hold the truth and change her life. One, his Grace skill unidentified, has a key to her heart.

The Review:

“Bitterblue” was a good continuation in the Graceling saga. Even though it was told from Bitterblue’s perspective, Cashore did a great job progressing the stories of all the characters we fell in love with in the first novel – especially Katsa and Po. There were even elements of Fire that made an appearance, and I like the way both books were incorporated. The basic storyline was also good, and the element of mystery she added really helped build suspense.

There were, however a few things I found lacking. I loved “Graceling” for three reasons: the romantic love story, the adventure, and the creativity. I’m sad to say that “Bitterblue” left me wanting on two of the three. While the creative element is Cashore’s biggest strength, I don’t think she brought me the adventure or epic love story that I was hoping for.

Overall: Even though I liked the book, I wouldn’t recommend it for younger teens, as there were some seriously dark and twisted elements in the story that only made a slight appearance in the first two books. I actually think it was a big risk for Cashore to write such a sadistic villain, and the extremes to which she took him just might loose her some fans. It’s difficult to compare, but even when looking at villains in adult novels, this one was one of the worst, and not in an enjoyable “it’s just fiction” way, either. In any case, proceed with caution.

[Spoiler Alert! You might want to stop here if you haven’t read the book]

You picked it for me, now here’s the breakdown! I promised a thorough assessment, and that’s what you’re getting. :)

Plot: As I said before, I really enjoyed the fact that Po and Katsa’s story continued to a degree, even though they weren’t the stars of this book. Part of the reason why I loved the first book was the adventure Katsa goes on while running from Leck. I found that element somewhat lacking in this sequel. Even if the adventures had just been explorations of the city, I would’ve liked it better. As it was, you really only get to explore within the first few chapters, and that’s where the “adventure” ends. Unless, of course, you count the many times that she discovers things within her own castle – which brings me to my next point:

For someone as bored as Bitterblue, she sure doesn’t know a lot about her own home. You would think that spending 18 years in a place would get you rather acclimated, even if it’s just being aware of certain features of your castle (much less visiting them). I mean, it wasn’t like she was buried under paperwork right away after Leck died. I thought it was just too much senseless discovery, especially since Leck’s rooms and all the hidden passages provided plenty of “new” and interesting places for her to unveil. There was even a part where she met her dressmaker for the first time… it was odd.

The other aspect that I was the most disappointed in was the love interest. Graceling is still one of the most evoking romantic teen books I’ve ever read, yet I failed to find any of those qualities in “Bitterblue”. Heck, even “Fire” had a more compelling love story. I understand the basic appeal to Saf, as he’s got that element of danger and excitement going for him, but I was frankly more attracted to either Giddon or Teddy because they were actually, you know, nice to her. Bitterblue and Saf’s relationship just felt cheap to me. One kiss throughout a bulk of the book, then a sex scene right after she faces the trauma of watching Thiel kill himself… how romantic. “Bitter” and “blue” are good ways to describe how I feel wishing the story had gone a different route.

Characters: Cashore’s characters are always memorable, and I loved that she brought back Katsa and Po and gave them well-rounded roles within the story. She certainly has a knack for introducing new people and they always made me want to know more about them, even minor ones. I also thought Bitterblue was a great protagonist. She still felt like the little girl we met in “Graceling” but more mature, and I enjoyed watching her grow as both a young queen and a woman. If nothing else, she was consistent as a character throughout, and I liked the naive charm with which she faces the world. I would also like to note that the character I found most fascinating was Death. Not only did he have a cool grace, but it was implemented in a couple of creative ways, from memorizing books to learning a new language from a dictionary.

Writing: Cashore has a good flow to her works, and I don’t remember any passages or dialogues that felt forced. She’s got a concise way of introducing events and characters that I always struggle with in writing. She always brought a new character into the scene by giving them something memorable, whether it be by their grace, as with Fox, or their physical features or mannerisms as with Saf and Teddy. She also used a really good technique for delivering information to the reader without “dumping” it. The best example is the Questions game Saf plays with “Sparks” at the beginning of the book where we find out a lot of back-history in a conversational format.

The creative element was also impressive. The graces were diverse and interesting, and I thought she did a good job describing cyphers and integrating them into the story (I want to know who took all the time to design those charts). Cashore was also quite good at creating elements of mystery to the story: things that keep you turning the page. This is why I don’t think she needed Bitterblue to be ignorant of her castle; there were plenty of other things for her to discover along the way without that element.

Overall: I feel like a harsh critic, but my overall opinion of the book was a positive one. It was fun to read, and that factor alone gets it at least 2 stars. I learned some writing techniques that I’ll likely be using in my own works, and appreciated the expansion to Po and Katsa’s story.

Now Let’s Discuss!

I swear I haven’t been this hyper-critical of a book since high school book reports – haha! In any case, I had a lot of fun composing this review, but I’m most looking forward to hearing what YOU think. Do you agree or disagree with my assessments and why? What elements of the book worked for you? Did you find the story compelling?

by Niki Hawkes

4 comments on “October’s Your Pick for Nik!: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

  1. Perfect review! I feel the same way in so many aspects. I really loved reading this book. However, when I finished I felt like she missed on several things, especially the love story. A queen in love with a mysterious commoner…same storyline we have heard before but it can be so intriguing and intense! This story had intrigue but no fire. I felt myself wanting it to be more and hoping it would get there. I ended up disappointed.

    Another thing I wish she would have developed more was Saf’s grace. I wish he would have had a few more moments using it since the whole book it is a mystery. I felt like once he found out he could have used it as something quite powerful. Again I was left wanting.

    I really did like the book though. Very dark and twisted but I was glad she went into detail because the whole series you wonder how evil he really is. Many villains we don’t get to know them that deeply, but she really let us know with Leck!

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  2. Intrigue but no fire – that was really well put! And it’s so true! There seemed to be a general lack of a climax to the story… I’m not even sure what the overall arc was supposed to be.

    You also bring up a good point regarding Saf’s grace. Frankly, I thought it was something to do with thievery or justice since those are the first things we see him doing. Or when he steals things, they are undetectable or something because of the gargoyles (I blamed that discrepancy on Saf’s grace rather than her advisors being deceptive). It would’ve been nice to have hints earlier about what it was.

    I’m still not sure if I liked how much detail she went into on Leck. On one hand, like you say, it really let us in on the depths of horror these people faced, which was more evoking. On the other, it seemed a bit vile for her target audience. I’m on the fence – lol.

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  3. Yes for me the stuff on Leck was ok. However I would not suggest this book to the group of teenagers I teach in church ;) And really they are her target audience so you are totally right!

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