Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bitterblue (Graceling Realm #3) by Kristin Cashore

Posted by Simcha 5:09 PM, under | 5 comments

It's been ten years since Leck's reign of terror was brought to an end by Katsa's knife and the kingdom of Monsea is still struggling to pick up the pieces. Bitterblue, as the queen of Monsea,  feels that it is her job to get the kingdom back on its feet and help the citizens recover but her advisers seem determined to keep her on the sidelines. Frustrated by constantly being given the runaround, and with nothing else to do, Bitterblue decides to find out for herself what is going on in her city and why it is that everyone in the castle is acting so strangely.

And so Bitterblue sneaks out of the castle dressed as a boy and sets out to explore the city of Monsea. What she discovers, and the people that she meets, opens up her eyes to the true state of the kingdom and a growing realization that the wounds inflected by Leck still run deep. Armed with this knowledge Bitterblue attempts to bring about some much-needed changes but someone else has different ideas about the way they want things done, and they are willing to kill to accomplish it. With her advisers behaving oddly and her friends occupied with their political activities Bitterblue is on her own in solving this mystery, though she must do so quickly because time may be running out.

I had really enjoyed Kristin Cashore's previous two books, Fire and Graceling, and have been very much looking forward to continuing with Bitterblue's story in this new addition to the series. The story started off strongly with a sinister memory from Bitteblue's childhood of her father, Leck, and his Grace .
    WHEN HE GRABS Mama's wrist and yanks her toward the wall-hanging like that, it must hurt. Mama doesn't cry out. She tries to hide her pain from him, but she looks back at me, and in her face, she shows me everything she feels. If Father knows she's in pain and is showing me, Father will take Mama's pain away and replace it with something else.

    He will say to Mama, "Darling, nothing's wrong. It doesn't hurt, you're not frightened," and in Mama's face I'll see her doubt, the beginnings of her confusion. He'll say, "Look at our beautiful child. Look at this beautiful room. How happy we are. Nothing is wrong. Come with me, darling." Mama will stare back at him, puzzled, and then she'll look at me, her beautiful child in this beautiful room, and her eyes will go smooth and empty, and she'll smile at how happy we are. I'll smile too, because my mind is no stronger than Mama's. I'll say, "Have fun! Come back soon!" Then Father will produce the keys that open the door behind the hanging and Mama will glide through. Thiel, tall, troubled, bewildered in the middle of the room, will bolt in after her, and Father will follow.
In Graceling and Fire we learned a little bit about Leck and his powerful Grace that allowed him to controls other people's minds and emotions. In Bitterblue we find out just how deeply depraved Leck really was, thorough the memories of his daughter and the broken citizens of Monsea that he had left behind.

Pretty early on in the book it's clear that this story was going to be different from the others. First of all the story is told in a much younger voice than in Fire and Graceling, and I got the feeling that it was meant for a younger audience, more of a middle-grade book than a YA. There really was no reason for Bitterblue to come across as younger and less mature than Katsa or Fire had been because her life was no less difficult than theirs. As the story progressed and new revelations were made about Leck and his horrifying habits I began to suspect that Ms. Cashore had gave the story a younger tone in order to keep it from getting too dark, which could have easily happened. So by the end I was actually impressed by how the author had managed to include all of the dark bits without making the story overwhelming, though it was also not quite as powerful as it could have been.

This story was also a bit messier than the other two and it felt to me like there was a lot going on here that wasn't necessary to the story. For example, all the central characters from the previous books are here but they are all involved in political activities for the Council which didn't have much to do with the central story line.

I also couldn't stop questioning why it was that Bitterblue was just now dealing with issues that she would have been confronting throughout the past ten years. She just suddenly, out of the blue, notices that everyone in the castle is acting strangely and that her kingdom is a mess? I would have liked Ms. Cashore to have made some attempt to offer a logical explanation for this. Perhaps Bitterblue could have been in another kingdom all of these years, training to become queen, or maybe she had pricked her finger on a spindle and fallen asleep. Any explanation would have been better than none. 

And who leaves a ten year old girl to be raised on her own in a castle, without any family or anyone to teach her what she needs to know to become queen, because that is exactly what seems to have occurred here.  After Leck's death Bitterblue's uncle escorted her to the castle and left her there with Leck's old advisers and Katsa's old nursemaid. It's no wonder that she has no idea what's going on and that she falls-in-love with the first boy she meets. I'm just surprised it took her so long to start sneaking out of the castle.

There were also a few other anomalies that bugged me, such as the way the the characters from Graceling were not acting very much in character. Every scene has Katsa wiping away tears and Po came across as kind of wimpy to me.  Though at least they were more interesting than the new characters that we meet, one of whom serves as Bitterblue's love-interest, because I did not feel an emotional connection with any of them. This was a far different experience than reading Fire and Graceling, where I loved the characters and thought about them frequently after finishing each book.

So...as you can probably tell I didn't enjoy Bitterblue as much as I had hoped to. I was actually tempted to give up on the story several times but I kept going because I was just as curious as Bitterblue was to find out what the reasons were for the strange events that were going on and what it was the Leck had been doing behind those locked doors.

I think I might have enjoyed this book more had I not read Fire and Graceling first because I wouldn't have come to it with certain expectations about the story and the way it would be told. But not knowing anything about the events from the previous books would probably have made this story even more confusing, so perhaps that wouldn't have helped either. I'm now wondering which style Ms. Cashore will choose to tell the next story in and admit that I hope it will be close in style to her earlier books that to this one.


Hey, I was glad to see you got a copy to read, but I'm sorry to hear it didn't pan out like you had hoped. I still have the first two to get too. The kid read the first one, but has to read the second. I don't think he'll get to the next one though.

I do not think I will like this one then. Graceling, bleh, gosh I was so freaking disappointed by that travesty. But I loved Fire...

Blodeuedd : Really, you didn't like Graceling? I had liked it even better than Fire. I wouldn't say that Bitterblue was a bad book, it was just different than what I had expected and so I was disappointed.

Melissa: You should really read this series, I think you'll enjoy it. Especially Graceling (though Blodeuedd might not agree ;) )

What a troubling, very dark first scene! I suspect that your hunch is right about why the author chose a much younger voice, which can sometimes be more effective actually in portraying the disquiet of something so sinister.

I still have Graceling on my tbr waiting for me to get to it. I also want Fire. I'm sorry that Bitterblue was a bit of a disappointment. Still, I know after reading the other 2 I'll want it... but perhaps I won't be as disappointed now that I've been warned.

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