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Kristin Cashore – Bitterblue

June 6, 2012

56. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (2012)
The Seven Kingdoms Trilogy, Book 3

Read my review of book:
1. Graceling
2. Fire

Read By: Xanthe Elbrick
Length: 16h 33m (576 pages)

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Started: 15 May 2012
Finished: 20 May 2012

Where did it come from? From Penguin Audio for review.
Why do I have it? I really enjoyed Graceling and Fire when I read them a few years ago.

Undoing the harm
of a tyrant is hard when
none remember it.

Summary: It’s been eight years since her father King Leck died, but Queen Bitterblue of Monsea is still not entirely comfortable running a kingdom. She is kept busy with administrative matters, but most of the work seems to fall to her advisors and clerks – men that she has known since she was a child. Despite having friends like Katsa and Po that visit occasionally, Bitterblue is largely isolated inside her castle, and has taken to sneaking out to learn more about the realities of life in her city. While there, she comes across a story room – a place where common folk gather to tell tales about life under Leck’s reign. Bitterblue is fascinated, and can sense that understanding what Leck did holds the key to consolidating her own reign. But discussion of Leck and his heinous crimes is strictly discouraged under an official policy of “forward thinking,” and how can she tease out the truth about the past, when her father’s terrible Grace allowed him to manipulate people’s minds and memories?

Review: I devoured both Graceling and Fire in short order when I first came across them, and have been eagerly anticipating Bitterblue for the several intervening years. Normally I dislike reading part of a series and then having to wait so long for its conclusion, but in this case, I think the delay may have actually worked in Bitterblue‘s favor. It is not nearly as strong of a book as the two that preceeded it, and had I read them all in a row, I suspect its weaknesses would have been much more apparent. But with the added buffer of a few years, its familiar characters and plotline felt comfortable rather than boring, and the re-hashing of the world- and history-building from the earlier books felt nostalgic rather than tedious.

Bitterblue‘s main problem is that it is too long, packed with secondary characters and diversions and sub-plots and sub-sub-plots, but with a central story arc that lacks any real oomph. I like stories about secret books and ciphers and hidden mysteries as much as the next girl, but watching Bitterblue trying to tease out what happened while her father was alive was not particularly exciting, given that the readers know more than she does throughout the entire novel. Similarly, while it was nice seeing Katsa and Po & company again, their plot came across as truly peripheral to the main “action”, and while it wasn’t uninteresting, it was kind of distracting. In all, this book reads very much like a companion piece or capstone to both Graceling and Fire, tying things up in neater bows but not completely satisfying on its own merits… except I don’t usually think of companion novels as being 33% longer than the works that spawned them.

However, the thing is, even though objectively this book was too long, subjectively, I didn’t really mind. While I was listening, I wasn’t ever bored despite the length, and I was always involved enough to want to go back and listen to more. Bitterblue is a very appealing protagonist, strong and smart if somewhat unsure of herself and naive. Cashore deals with some fairly dark subjects, but there are enough touches of humor to keep things from getting overwhelmed. I also always appreciate her approach to the subjects of sex and sexuality and relationships: frank and realistic without making it into a lecture.

The audiobook production was well done; Xanthe Elbrick also narrated Fire, which I loved, and for the most part she continues to do a nice job differentiating the characters, although I couldn’t stand the accent she chose to use for Katsa. Overall, it was an enjoyable if not particularly challenging listen, and a pleasant way to spend some more time with Cashore’s characters and their world… although it mostly made me want to go back and revisit Cashore’s earlier, better books. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Bitterblue is not by any means a stand-alone; fans of Graceling and Fire should find it comfortably enjoyable, although not quite up to par with Cashore’s previous work. I’d definitely recommend the series as a whole to fans of medieval-esque YA fantasy, particularly Tamora Pierce, who I think has a very similar tone.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Good Books and Good Wine, Rhapsody in Books Weblog, S. Krishna’s Books and many more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: When he grabs Mama’s wrist and yanks her towards the wall-hanging like that, it must hurt.

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