Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Review: Bitterblue

Bitterblue (Graceling Realm, book 3)
By Kristin Cashore
Expected publication May 1, 2012 by Dial

WARNING: May contain spoilers for the first two books.

Eight years have passed since King Leck's reign ended. Young Bitterblue is now Queen of Monsea and believes her administration should be marked by forward thinking. But all is not as it seems in Bitterblue's queendom - more danger awaits her than she could imagine...

Okay, so I'm breaking my own rule by reviewing this book. When I started the blog, I decided I wouldn't review any books in series unless I had reviewed the other books in the series on the blog - basically, if I was going to talk about a series, I had to start with book 1. But, I can't not review this book - it is one of the most highly anticipated young adult books this year, certainly one of my most highly anticipated books of 2012.

I have to start by saying this: I didn't realize until I was looking over other reviews that many Graceling fans were angry when it was announced that Bitterblue would be the main focus of this new book in the series. I must admit, I have a hard time understanding this. By far, Bitterblue was my favorite character in Graceling - she completely charmed me and had, I think, an incredibly fascinating story to tell. So I, personally, was overjoyed to discover that this title would be pretty much all about her (of course, I knew that the other characters would certainly make appearances). Perhaps this makes me more positively biased towards this book. So, take from that what you will.

To the book itself, I must start by saying at one point I hugged the book to my body and declared to my boyfriend, "I love my book!" I'm sorry - it's foolish behavior, but I couldn't help myself. I greatly enjoyed Graceling, especially having listened to the Full Cast Audio version but was disappointed by Fire. This did not diminish my desire to read Bitterblue. I actually stood in line at Midwinter for a timed giveaway of the ARC (which, believe me, many people did not understand my doing this). I valiantly fought my overwhelming desire to begin reading it immediately (with its May 1 release date, there were other books coming out sooner that I wanted to try to get to before their release dates), but I often looked longingly to the shelves of my bookcase where I could see its lovely blue spine. So, my anticipation for reading was incredibly high.

I did experience a bit of letdown while reading Graceling because it had been hyped so much before I read it - I find this is often the case if I don't read a book that has everyone talking concurrently with the hype. Often, I have even caused my own disappointment by hoping desperately that this book will be awesome (for whichever reason - author I enjoy, particularly interesting premise, etc.) and eagerly awaiting its arrival. In this case, however, I experienced no such let down or disappointment - this book was exactly what I wanted it to be.

Though I was initially put off by the idea that this book takes place eight years after the end of Graceling (Bitterblue's formative years - and we're missing them?!?!), I quickly came to embrace the complexity this added to the plot. Bitterblue has already been Queen for eight years by the time this book begins and yet the vast fields of her ignorance about her queendom have barely begun to be explored. Monsea is still struggling intensely to free itself from the 35-year reign of terror that was King Leck, Bitterblue's father - how does one recover from what has essentially been a rape of one's own mind? This issue is so torturous to think about and so central to the action of this novel - every person in Monsea has a right to feel this way, including their Queen and all her royal advisers.

The main action throughout the novel is Bitterblue's struggle to become a gracious, benevolent, and effective ruler. However, from early on, it becomes clear that Bitterblue barely knows the first thing about the tortures Leck inflicted upon his citizens - and it begins to appear that her own royal staff will do most anything to keep her in the dark. Bitterblue begins to sneak out of the castle, hoping to explore her land and its people on a more personal level. When she meets Teddy and Saf, however, it seems this may only lead to more secrets and danger, not to mention perhaps a broken heart.

At this point, I'm beginning to question if this review even makes any sense, but I soldier on regardless. I loved getting to know this older version of Bitterblue - the hurt and desperation she still feels and the ignorance she has only begun to discover. I also enjoyed the multiple layers of intrigue that Cashore has imbued this novel with - not only is Bitterblue unsure of trusting her closest and most esteemed advisers, she wonders if she can trust her subjects, and it's not long before she begins to question herself. I liked the new characters introduced here - Teddy and Saf, Fox and Hava, Death! - as well as the chance to learn a great deal more about characters I'd forgotten - Helda and Giddon. I'll be the first to admit - there are a lot of puzzles within this story and, at times, it can feel a bit convoluted and overwhelming, but, ultimately, they all tie together so beautifully that I can't imagine the story without a single one of them. The passages written from Leck's point of view are some of the most eloquently disturbing pieces I've ever read. I found myself falling in love with every piece of this story and wanting it never to end.

My main quibble with the novel - the romance. Quite honestly, I found the subject of Bitterblue's romantic feelings particularly unbelievable - in fact, I found scenes between Bitterblue and a different character to be exceptionally more romantic than the scenes she shared with the object of her desire. Additionally, the romance played such an insignificant role in the story (and I imagine some would argue with me, but I can't make my case without giving too much away) that it seemed superfluous to include it at all.

I cannot begin to express how thrilled I was with this book - it is everything I imagined it would be and I am so pleased with Cashore and the world she's crafted in this series, and especially in this third novel. I cannot recommend this highly enough!

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy!

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