Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore is the third of her Seven Kingdoms trilogy, the first being Graceling and the second being Fire. I admit it: the only reason I read Graceling was because I was assigned it for one of my youth literature classes in grad school. It’s not that I don’t like fantasy–I love Harry Potter, for example–it’s just that I didn’t think I liked this kind of fantasy. The kind that takes place in some kind of magical kingdom or whatever. Generally, I much prefer books like Harry Potter or Holly Black’s White Cat–books where magic exists alongside our everyday, modern life. Well! Graceling was excellent. It turns out that sometimes I do like magical kingdom type fantasy books, at least if they’re as well-written as Graceling. I also thoroughly enjoyed Fire, although I was a little disappointed that it didn’t have more of Katsa and Po. If you read Graceling, you probably loved Katsa and Po too. Such a funny, clever, brave couple! I wanted more!
Well, Bitterblue gave me more Katsa and Po (yay!) and also more characters to love (and a few to fear). Bitterblue takes place eight years after Graceling (and this review will contain spoilers for Graceling, so if you haven’t read that and think you might want to–stop reading now!)
When we first met Bitterblue, she was the 10-year-old daughter of King Leck, a psychopath who was unfortunately Graced with the ability to control the minds of others. Katsa and Po killed Leck and rescued Bitterblue, leaving her to be the young Queen of Monsea. When Bitterblue the novel begins, Queen Bitterblue is 18 and beginning to rule in her own right, rather than simply following the suggestions of her adviser. Things in Monsea are still a mess from Leck’s 35 years of cruelly brainwashing and torturing his subjects, and many of Bitterblue’s advisers think she should just leave the past behind and move forward. Queen Bitterblue realizes there are a lot of things that don’t make sense in her queendom, and she isn’t sure who she can trust. She begins slipping out of her castle to mingle with commoners to see what she can learn from them–including the handsome, mysterious Sapphire. The book that follows is equal parts suspenseful mystery, exciting action, and sweet romance. It also features plenty of Katsa and Po flirting, fighting, and advising Bitterblue. It’s funny and scary and smart.
The day I read Bitterblue I stayed up until 1am to finish it, even though I knew I had to get up at 7am for work the next day. I just couldn’t put it down! Nor could I stop tweeting all-caps mini-reviews of how good it was. (I’ve contained myself and turned the capslock off, here, but I still really want to shout about it. IT’S SO GOOD!)
I loved everything about it–I love Bitterblue and her practicality, and seeing her come into her own as a ruler. I love (as I may have mentioned) Katsa and Po and their hot-and-cold relationship. I love the worldbuilding–the different social customs about gender and marriage and medicine and magic powers, and how well-realized they were. Perhaps most of all, I love Bitterblue’s wise, irritable old librarian, Death. (It’s pronounced to rhyme with “teeth.”) Death is Graced with the ability to read extremely quickly and remember everything I read, and though his personality is prickly, he is invaluable to Bitterblue’s efforts to uncover some of her queendom’s secrets. Also, he loves his cat Lovejoy. (As a cliche cat-loving librarian, I was, of course, prone to loving Death and Lovejoy.)
Here’s a tiny excerpt, from the “Who’s Who of the World As We Know It,” a guide to the book’s characters compiled by Death.
BITTERBLUE: The Queen of Monsea and this annalist’s most excellent employer. Daughter of King Leck and Queen Ashen. Niece of King ROr and Queen Zinnober of Lienid. Indubitably the finest monarch ruling in the known world today, though it is to be noted that even the finest monarchs waste their librarians’ time with surprising frequency.
DEATH (pronounced to rhyme with “teeth”): This annalist, and the Royal Librarian of Monsea. Grace: speed of reading and perfect memory of all that is read.
KATSA: A lady of the Middluns, banished and declared fortuneless by her uncle, King Randa of the Middluns, though this does not seem to stop her from entering the kingdom when she pleases. Reputed Council leader and that organization’s founder. Cousin of Prince Raffin of the Middluns. Famous paramour of Prince Po of Lienid. Assassinated King Leck. Grace: survival, with an extreme capacity for any kind of fighting.
LOVEJOY: A cat of fine temperament.
See? So clever. If you haven’t already read this trilogy, you are missing out!
Recommended for: All readers, even ones who don’t think they like fantasy.
Reviewed by: Renata (NAFCPL teen librarian).