Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Sometimes I buy books and then don’t read them until months later, but not so with Bitterblue, which I’d very much looked forward to. Yet while I really enjoyed some aspects of it and would certainly recommend it to read, overall my expectations (admittedly pretty high) were slightly disappointed.

I thought it started well. Bitterblue, a character introduced in Cashore’s first novel Graceling, has grown up and is grappling with her role as Queen of Monsea. Her father Leck had the magical talent of making people do and believe what he wanted just by telling them so and used it to terrible effect (for the full story I recommend you read Graceling). Bitterblue and her mother managed to fight the mind fog sometimes, but still she’s struggling to get parts of her memory back. In an attempt to get to know her kingdom better, she sneaks out one night into the city and stumbles into a viper’s nest of questions. Finding answers to them and paying the price for it takes up most of the rest of the book.

Bitterblue is a very engaging heroine. Unlike the main characters of Cashore’s other two books, she has no outstanding magical abilities, which makes her more accessible. She has an orderly mind and likes Maths and displays an admirable drive to find the truth and do right by her people. However, the main focus of the novel is really on the plot with all its tortuous twists and very much driven by the events of the past – as she remarks at one point, nearly a decade after his death, Leck is still killing people. Fittingly, important themes of the book are puzzles, keys and ciphers and Cashore has even invented a beautiful whole new alphabet.

But while I enjoyed the many plot twists, I found too few engaging characters apart from Bitterblue (although I liked the tetchy librarian!). Some of the characters from the other books make brief cameos, but apart from Po they remain pale shades of their former selves, which I thought a shame. As for the love story, such a strong element in Cashore’s other novels, it’s a complete disappointment!

The worldbuilding seemed slightly weaker than usual. Bitterblue lives in a castle and runs a kingdom, yet there is not a single courtier in sight. And though she’s enormously wealthy, nobody ever seeks any favours or advancement. Also when you think of it, she might not even be the rightful queen. Her father usurped the throne and there might be some distant cousin of the former king with a better right to the throne (just think of the complicated succession debates during Tudor times).

Yet having said all that, the book is still a good read. Kristin Cashore’s style is very smooth and absolutely lovely to read and I enjoyed how she explored different themes such as the importance of memory or the question of guilt. Leck left an enormous mess behind and it’s very realistic that killing him is not the solution to all the kingdom’s problems.

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2 Responses to Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

  1. Hija says:

    I read BitterBlue as a standalone a while back. I liked a few things, and disliked others (an unsatisfactory end, for one!) But I thought Bitterblue was pretty sweet.

    What I truly loved was the entire backstory running along the story, the vivid scenes of Bitterblue’s mother, trying desperately to protect her daughter, sacrificing herself over and over and over. Bitterblue slowly figuring out her mothers’ Cipher, sitting there and reading the sheets her mother left for her. Her Mother, sitting and embroidering quietly in the corner. Both of them reciting numbers, figuring problems. Bitterblue’s watch, because it made her do figures just to figure out the time. The sculptures, and the art scattered around. Such fun symbolism, and so vividly described…

    Maybe there is more to the story then I got, having just read that one book. But, although I enjoyed it quite a bit, I didn’t think it was worth it to go to the trouble of getting more. Maybe because I didn’t actually like the people the other stories are focussed on very much. Except Po. I liked Po. Didn’t like his beloved, though. Liked his friend, or was it his brother? Guy Bitterblue made a deal with, to always be truthful.

    And there was an entire underlying despair of the people, of the many pardoned crimes that must be forgiven, but they hurt too many people so we can’t..! One of the most vivid moments, I think, was when one of her advisors committed suicide.

    It was pretty vivid at times, but I was overall dissatisfied with it. Somehow it didn’t feel… complete, you know? The love-plot didn’t really conclude, nothing was truly figured out… a lot of character developement got done, but it wasn’t over, by any means! It felt like the author had gotten a bit tired of writing it, and said enough. I thought that might be ’cause it was part of a series, but there is no more focused on Bitterblue, at least.

    I followed you over from, wondering what this was all about and got suddenly startled on seeing a cover I actually knew! Sorry if the review/thingy is a bit… incoherent, it’s a bit late here.

    I fully intend on commenting on something there too, if I don’t get distracted, but this is not the place for what I want to say.

    • Lia says:

      I agree with you, the back story of her mother struggling to protect Bitterblue was very well done and touching. Also I liked the bit about the ciphers. But like you I felt let-down by the ending of the book. The other two books have a much more satisfactory romance and also to me they feel more ‘complete’. I seem to remember reading somewhere that Cashore plans to write a sequel to Bitterblue (and not just another book set in the same world, but with different protagonists like the other two), so maybe that’s one reason.

      As for the characters from the other novels that make an appearance in this book, you don’t really get a good feeling for them, except perhaps for Po. If you do want to try reading another book from her, I’d recommend ‘Fire’. I really enjoyed that.

      Thanks for commenting!