Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore, needs little introduction--sequel to Graceling, and companion to Fire, it's one of the most anticipated books of the year, and will be released tomorrow, May 1. I was awfully happy to have the chance to read it a tad early, and to offer a copy from the publisher as a giveaway today (see end of post). And happiest of all, it proved to be my favorite of the series. Bitterblue is part mystery, part political intrigue, and a little part romance, but mostly its the powerful story of how remembering past atrocities is a vital step to moving beyond them.
Bitterblue's childhood was a nightmare of violence. Her father, King Leck of Monsea, was an insane sadist, whose hideous proclivities for systematic torture and casual violence were made worse by his ability to bend anyone's mind to his will. He forced those around him to hurt, and kill, others, and then (if he wished) he could wipe their memory of it clean (though memories might linger).
Mercifully, as is told in Graceling, he was killed when Bitterblue was ten. Eight years later, she is the Queen of Monsea, carefully sheltered by her advisory, and terribly ignorant of many, many things. It is not only the day to day workings of life of in her country that she knows little of, but the dark truths of her father's evil.
Bitterblue is not going to stay ignorant for long, trusting that the blanket pardon to all involved in her father's atrocities means Monsea is all better now. Surreptitious night-time visits outside the confines of the castle lead her to a meeting with a small band of individuals who force her to re-examine many things she's taken for granted. And once Bitterblue starts pulling on the threads they give her, her world unravels...presenting both danger, and great opportunity.
Those who loved the first two books will be pleased to see those characters reappear. Katsa and Po, in particular, get considerable page time--which is a good thing for Bitterblue, because they are just about the only people she truly trusts (so many, many people in her life have secrets; some will even betray her). But she cannot rely on her old friends to solve all her problems, and during the course of the book she grows greatly in confidence, knowledge, and maturity. And I think one reason this book is my favorite is that, unlike Katsa and Fire, truly extraordinary people, Bitterblue has no special gift. She is just a smart and caring girl, doing the best she can. So it was easy as all get out to empathize with her, and cheer for her, and to watch anxiously as she struggled with the terrible past, so very much part of her present.
I can imagine that some might find it slow--there aren't wild, far-ranging adventures of sword fighting and survival (although violence still is very much a threat in Bitterblue's castle). But for those, like me, who love tightly place- centered, and character driven intrigue, the book works beautifully. And the issue at the heart of the book--the recognition that it is crucial to understand and remember the past, resisting the urge to forget its horrors--is one that I think is truly important.
And just as as addendum, I loved Cashore's descriptions of the bizarre art that surrounds Bitterblue, and appreciated her inclusion of literacy as an important sub-issue!
You can watch the trailer and find other extras here at the Graceling Realm website, and read part of the prologue here.
Thanks to the publishers, I have two copies of Bitterblue to give away (US only). Just leave a comment by midnight Monday, May 7.
(If you feel like it (but it's not required), you can include in your comment any recommendations of other books of of place- centered, and character driven intrigue--I'd like to see them! The two that occur to me of the top of my head are King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner, and Star Crossed, by Elizabeth Bunce. Or if anyone has recommendations for other fantasies that deal with societies confronting difficult pasts, I'd welcome those too!).
(disclaimer: ARC received from publisher)