Release Date: May 1, 2012
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers
Age Group: Young Adult
Source: ARC received from publisher
Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle—disguised and alone—to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.
Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.
Tell Me More: Beginning the final book in a series is always bittersweet (no pun intended) for many reasons. As wonderful as it is to have a world to return to and explore once again, readers deserve the satisfaction of a fulfilling ending for the characters they’ve grown to love. Kristin Cashore delivers, and how.
The Seven Kingdoms are as richly drawn as they were in Graceling and Fire, their familiarity still comforting even as Cashore takes her readers to new corners of Monsea. Each kingdom has its own character and their uniqueness contributes to the brilliance of this saga. Monsea is particularly interesting to behold–as a kingdom ravaged by a cruel king, it is simultaneously ragged and shiny. Reading Bitterblue was like slowly opening centuries-old curtains to let the light into a room.
And what light through yonder window breaks–it is Katsa and Po, returned to aid and protect Bitterblue as she tries to remove the claws of her father’s reign over Monsea. The relationship between these three characters is a wonder to behold, not just for the emotional impact but for the careful development Cashore weaves underneath the words. As much as books, especially YA novels, are forms of escape, it is still gratifying to see that authors know how much their readers value realistic and believable portrayals of life. The pressures Katsa and Po undergo as a couple do not overwhelm the story or their characters, and best of all, their relationship is not the point of their inclusion in the story.
I find it incredibly interesting that so many readers (at least, from my observation) are disappointed with the romance in this series, particularly in Bitterblue. Yes, each female heroine finds someone worthy to love. But the key word there is worthy. I would have been highly disappointed if Cashore took the easy way out and let their relationships change Katsa, Fire and Bitterblue. But each couple is like a rubber band–they stretch out and move independently of each other, but it is when they come together that they are strongest. As Martha Mihalick puts it in her post on romance: They are a team by the end, a team that will take on whatever comes next, which is bound to be imperfect, but good because they can count on one another.
In that way, Bitterblue is written to be one of the most remarkable characters I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. The facets of her personality aren’t polished and blinding. They are so real, you almost feel like you know her. You know her mistakes, you know her insecurities and you know the courage she finds in herself. The person that Bitterblue becomes is not in spite of, but because of her past and the people she’s known. Like that same rubber band, she is strong when she discards her past and the influence of her father, but she is even more powerful when she takes it into herself and accepts it as part of her identity. The place might be a fantasy, but the life lessons Cashore imparts to her readers, young and old, are so important for us to remember.
The Final Say: With an incandescent charm and truly unforgettable characters, Bitterblue makes an excellent addition to any shelf. I mourn today if only because there won’t be more of the Seven Kingdoms to explore.
Kristin Cashore is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels Graceling and Fire. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.