Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore is a brick of a book. I could literally use it as a doorstop. I’ve always had a soft spot for weighty tomes. It gives me a real sense of satisfaction to turn the final page on a mammoth read. What first struck me about this fantasy read, apart from its size, were its pages. It has beautiful illustrations and maps throughout. I thought it was a lovely touch which enhanced my reading experience.
At a time when books are facing an uncertain future, it’s nice that a publisher decided it was worth adding extra pages of illustrations. I wonder if we will start seeing more instances of fiction books being printed with more care – a start to books as objects of beauty you want to physically own over an e-book version.
Now to the story …
Bitterblue is set in the same world as Kristin Cashore’s previous books Graceling and Fire. I had read Fire previously but remembered little of the plot. While it might help to read Graceling before reading this book, I haven’t read it and was still able to follow the story.
Eight years have passed since Princess Bitterblue and her country were saved from the vicious rule of her father, King Leck. Bitterblue is now the Queen of Monsea, but the influence of her father lives on. Leck was a Graceling – a kind of mutant – whose power was mind control. He could get anyone to do anything and then wipe their memory clean if he chose to. Or he could force them to do horrific deeds and leave them to live with the memory. He had a whole kingdom under his influence – including Bitterblue and her mother. Her mother helped Bitterblue escape into the safe-keeping of a group of Graceling resistant fighters and was then killed by King Leck.
Now all should be well. But Monsea is still under some sort of spell. There are many missing pieces to put together and Bitterblue doesn’t know which of her advisers she can trust. She begins to sneak outside the castle walls in disguise. There she meets two thieves Saf, a Graceling who doesn’t know what his grace is, and Teddy. Bitterblue soon learns that there is more to this pair than meets the eye. They are trying to uncover the past that was clouded for so long by Bitterblue’s father.
I enjoyed Bitterblue, although it took me a while to get through. There were plenty of mysteries and ciphers to unravel and people who weren’t what they seemed. The character Bitterblue was believable as a very young Queen trying to find her feet and fix her devastated kingdom. But at times the plot rambled on and then there was a hurried ending which left me hanging.
The reviews on goodreads are all conflicted. Some readers give it five stars and herald it as a masterpiece and some give it two stars and a lump of their disappointment. I am somewhere in between. I didn’t race to the end. I sort of limped along and felt a bit relieved to get to the last page. Bitterblue didn’t capture my attention as much as Kristin Cashore’s Fire, but it was still a worthy and entertaining read.