Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
Summary from Goodreads:
The long-awaited companion to New York Times bestsellers Graceling and Fire
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.
Bitterblue is the last installment in the Graceling Series and I was quite excited about it because familiar characters from the first and second book will be making its way into the story. The most important of them all is of course, Bitterblue herself. She was just a little girl in first book, Graceling and here she has come of age. I was eager to know how she is handling being the Queen of Monsea and coping with the aftermath of her sinister father's reign.
Plotwise, this third book deviates from the simplicity I saw in the first and second book. I find the story to be more complex. A lot of things are going on at the same time. Bitterblue is affected by a lot of things from all angles. One, there's the newly formed "Council" composed of Katsa, Po, Giddon, Raffin and Bann (all recurring characters from Graceling), they are a sort of vigilante group fighting against corruption in the monarchy in seven kingdoms. Some of the 7 are on the brink or are currently in a state of rebellion. Bitterblue is Po's cousin and because of that, it immediately ties her to The Council. And thus the probability of anyone suspecting her as an ally of this vigilante group is high and puts her in a tight spot and not at all popular among the ruling monarchs of the 7 kingdoms. Second, her advisers seem to be a wacky bunch whose effectivity, efficiency, and trustworthiness is quite questionable. Third, she is a new queen. A young orphan queen, unsure of herself and in need of guidance. Fourth, her kingdom Monsea is fresh out of a harrowing experience under the reign of the sinister King Leck, the citizens are in dire need of closure and positive changes. Fifth, she stumbles upon a group of commoners calling themselves the truthseekers and becomes embroiled with this group deeper than she should have.
Another thing that's different in this book than the first two is this story seems to be all about finding the truth. Books, library, information, facts, history, codes, ciphers, are central to the story. Less brawn and more brain. Less sword play, archery, and fist fights but tackles issues like literacy in Monsea and the importance of education. It also provided a rather enjoyable cat and mouse political game. Plus, the romance is subtler, than the previous book.
The characters are now less theatrical and less soap opera-ish which was a problem for me in the first two books. I especially like the presence of bookish characters. Like Teddy for one, who loves words and books. And my absolute favorite is Death, the sour-faced librarian. He is quite a character. There are also a variety of other colorful characters, and I had a grand time reading not only about their personalities but also finding out their specific graces.
My heart still lies in Graceling but this one comes in a close second. I was quite surprised by how different the story line is from the first two but I welcome this kind of change. I think it's a terrific ending to the trilogy.
Bitterblue is the recipient of the NAIBA Book of the Year for Young Adults (2012)
Award Winning Books reading Challenge 2013 Entry No. 7