Warning: Spoilers for Graceling follow.
Queen Bitterblue is trying to pick up the pieces of her kingdom after the death of her father Leck, but the past can not be swept aside so easily. How can Bitterblue do what is right when no one will let her see what’s wrong?
My love of Kristin Cashore and her Seven Kingdoms series should be pretty well known after my posts on both Graceling (review & discussion) and Fire (review & discussion). As such, my expectations for Bitterblue were as high as my expectations have ever been. I was worried because I’d seen some lukewarm reviews, but I clung to my hope that Cashore would not disappoint.
Bitterblue doesn’t have quite as much action as Graceling and Fire, but it contains my favourite qualities of Cashore’s works which is that she addresses contemporary issues in a fantasy setting. Like, serious hard-hitting issues that many novels shy away from: self-mutilation, bisexuality and homosexuality, female masturbation, and suicide. She treats all of these topics with sensitivity and class. I was especially impressed by her normalization of bisexuality and homosexuality and female masturbation.
Another impressive element is how REAL everything feels. Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that the characters are made of words rather than flesh and blood. They are so well-rounded with their good qualities and their bad qualities and their in-between qualities. No one is perfect. No one is all evil (though Leck comes pretty close). Not only are the characters real, but the story is so real it doesn’t feel like a story. It doesn’t feel like there’s a beginning and a climax and a set amount of plot threads and points and a conclusion. Some books I’ve read feel like there’s a checklist that the author feels they have to get through, but it never felt that way with Bitterblue. Instead, I felt as if Cashore was showing a life instead of a story. And as much as this meant the ending left me with an empty sort of feeling in my chest, I am in awe of how Cashore decided to tell this story.
Finally, I just want to add how much I respect Kristin Cashore as a writer and a person. In her acknowledgements she discusses the flaws in Graceling when it comes to disability politics, and in Bitterblue I see that she tried to make amends for her treatment of disabilities in Graceling as much as she could. I love that she is continuing to strive to improve her treatment of these important topics. She is continuing to try to better her understanding of the world, and in all honesty I see her as a wonderful role model for young (and not so young) people everywhere.
Books with similar aspects
Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
recommended to fantasy fans and women looking for some inspiration
not recommended to fans of cookie cutter stories
Don’t just take my word for it!
“With an incandescent charm and truly unforgettable characters, Bitterblue makes an excellent addition to any shelf.” – Angel @ Mermaid Visions
“While Bitterblue was a good read, it’s not exactly up to par with the standards set by Graceling and Fire.” –April @ Good Books and Good Wine
“For me this was a very satisfying conclusion to the Seven Kingdoms series. The only thing that would make me more satisfied would be the announcement that more books were going to be written.” – Jen @ Almost Grown-Up