Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore – Advance Review

Book Jacket:

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.

You can read an excerpt here.


After I closed the back cover of this book, my first thought was: Wow.

Kristin Cashore has done it again, but in an entirely different way. Bitterblue is unique – yes, it definitely carries on from the timeline of Graceling and Fire, and it also definitely brings a sense of closure to the events of the first two books, but this book is NOT in any way a clone, a copycat, or merely the next chapter – this book is something else entirely. Now Bitterblue may have less action than its predecessors, and its romance is indeed less central, but what it does have is utterly brilliant emotional and psychological heft.

Leck may be dead, but his shadow looms large over Bitterblue in this story as she struggles to overcome his terrible legacy, to put back together all he tore asunder. Cashore fully explores the ramifications of Leck’s awful power, plumbing the depths of his depravity, and I loved how she slowly revealed the full cost of what he’d done, writ large and small – and how every new discovery made Bitterblue’s task all the more impossible. Cashore never lets Bitterblue have a simple answer, or an easy truth, as she faces difficult, uncomfortable questions about whether Leck’s horrors must be remembered or forgotten, about whether truth is always worth the price we pay to uncover it or if healing can only truly take place when the truth is fully revealed, about whether or not trust can ever fully be repaired. I can’t say it enough – the emotional complexity Cashore brings to this story is truly, truly astonishing. Bitterblue is a teenage queen faced with an impossible task, and the way she takes on, and then rises to, the challenge is just wonderful storytelling.

I remember reading on Cashore’s blog how difficult Bitterblue was for her to write – she essentially had to throw out the entire first draft of the book and start again – and I can absolutely see why. This book defies convention. So many of the perils Bitterblue faces are such indefinite, intangible things – lies, history, intrigue, betrayal – that they defy easy storytelling. There is no clear, marching through-line to this story – no dragon to slay or heart to be won. No this story is murky and mysterious, and more than anything else it’s about the danger that lurks in shadows of the mind, and the power of fear. My hat goes off to Cashore for pulling this book off – this is not an easy story to tell.

Part emotional wringer, part court intrigue, part tale of espionage, this book does not gallop or even trot along – instead it carefully constructs a twisting path for us to follow. I’ve heard people call this book slow, and in a way it is, but it’s in a delicious, deliberate, deeply flavorful kind of way, and I can honestly say that I could not tear myself away. I read this book through in one sitting, and was sad to see it end. I’m still thinking about it, weeks later.

Also, yes, a few beloved faces do make an appearance, but honestly they’re mostly on the sidelines. Make no mistake, this is Bitterblue’s story, through and through.

In the end, Bitterblue, was so much more than I’d hoped it would be. This book is rich, compelling, and utterly original; it truly made me think, and left a deep impression on me. Much as I adore the first two books – and Graceling I think may still be my favorite – I firmly believe Bitterblue is Cashore’s most impressive work to date. This one was well worth the wait.

Byrt Grade: A+

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Kirkus Reviews (starred review) says:

Gorgeous, textured prose is filled with images of strange beauty and restrained horror. It propels an intricate narrative dense with subplots and rich in characters familiar and new. Weaving them together are all the lies: conspiracies and ciphers, fakes and false testimony, spies and thieves, disguises and deceptions, mazes and puzzles.

Reading Teen says:

I could seriously go on and on and on about all the amazingness that is this book. If you are a fan of her other books, and enjoy a more in-depth high fantasy, you will not be disappointed in this book. It isn’t as action packed as the other two, but it is much more though-provoking. Honestly, I thought it was brilliant!

Bibliopunkk says:

I enjoyed reading Bitterblue. So much. This pleases me. Brava, Cashore. Brava…This is a much quieter book than the previous two in the series. Graceling is all scrappy action while Fire is all enduring heart… but this book is pure stamina. It’s a tiny flame that takes down an entire wilderness. This book smolders.