Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Review: BITTERBLUE by Kristin Cashore

Rating: 5/5 stars

Read my updated 2021 reread review here

Bitterblue is the best book in this series by far. After we left Princess Bitterblue in Graceling, I was curious to see how her future would turn out now that Leck isn't at the helm of her life. I'm glad she got her own story, and I can't believe I almost didn't read this book because I didn't love the last two. This book is worlds better than the other two, and Cashore's writing has significantly improved since book one. Although Bitterblue follows characters introduced in Graceling and features cameos from characters in Fire, I do think it could be read as a standalone, or as a sequel to Graceling, omitting Fire. I will say having the knowledge from Fire definitely added to my reading experience of this book, but it is not pertinent to read that book prior to Bitterblue.

I loved the characters in this story. Bitterblue is lovely (I actually like her more than Katsa), and it was so nice to see how she's matured since her childhood in Graceling. Moreso, I loved the evolution and progression of her character and strengths from the beginning of this book to the end. Cashore has a talent for writing really strong female leads that have great arcs of character development throughout the story, being tested in many ways but always emerging triumphant and stronger in the end. Of all the characters in this book, I think I liked Sapphire the most (and his name is pure gold). He was unpleasant at times, but I continued rooting for him and I loved when he showed up in scenes. He, too, goes through some nice moral changes as the story progresses.

My very favourite scene in this whole book is when Bitterblue walks into the courthouse while Saf is on trial. I listened to that part of the book on audio, and I was laughing so much at how ironically funny it was. Simply charming.

One thing I wish we were given more details about was the romance. Bitterblue and Sapphire had a kind of relationship that could have been more intimate than we saw it, but we don't know what happened to them after the story ended. Bitterblue also seemed fond of Giddon, but their relationship was always only platonic. I could see it turning into something more in the future, but we readers won't know what happens with Bitterblue's possible suitors because the story was left open-ended with this matter.

In Bitterblue, the use of ciphers and codes and secret messages is paramount to the story. I've always been interested in that kind of thing but never had an aptitude for it, so I enjoy reading about it in books from time to time, watching the characters figure out the puzzles piece by piece. Each new message that Bitterblue deciphers or each code that she had to break had me completely enthralled with how detailed they were, how complex they were to solve. And their prevalence goes to show that Bitterblue really couldn't trust anyone. Truly, I had no idea who was on her side and who was putting on a facade. People were changing their allegiances in the middle of the book, discovered to be an enemy but then ended up being an ally, and vice versa. That is one thing Cashore did really well in this book: she had me completely unable to trust any of the characters. Even the main characters that were most present in the story were under scrutiny from Bitterblue, and I can't imagine that strain on her as an emerging queen. Luckily, all answers were elucidated by the end of the book.

I did think it was weird, for how focused on characterization Cashore is in her writing, that we never got to meet the spies. Bitterblue mentions her spies quite a bit, and at first I thought that was a pretense for her guards, that her "spies" were actually herself and Saf and Teddy. But then I realized she actually does have spies, but we never got to meet them or know their names. I found that a bit strange with how much this book revolves around secrets and the acquisition of information.

I like that this book heavily relied on politics, but they didn't control the story like they did in Fire. In Fire, the politics were the story, and the plot became very dry and boring. But in Bitterblue, the politics enhanced the story, and that was so much more enjoyable to me. I think politics are crucial to any good fantasy that takes place in a medieval setting with castles and rulers, but I find that they can make or break my interest in the story.

Overall, Bitterblue was an excellent conclusion to an otherwise ordinary trilogy. Cashore's writing has developed greatly since her debut novel, and I believe she will continue to grow even stronger in that skill as time goes on. She writes great characters and interesting political plotlines with shocking revelations throughout. This story was long, but it didn't feel that long because every bit of it was entertaining. One neat thing about this book in particular is the considerable amount of bonus content at the end, which really enhances the reading experience. We have beautiful drawings of the three bridges in Bitterblue City, detailed maps of different parts of the castle and the land, a character list with helpful descriptions, and Cashore's writing process for Bitterblue, which was actually very eye-opening. She wrote two complete first drafts of the story over the course of many years to get all the details of the plot where she wanted them to be. While that would have been a grueling rewriting process, I know that Bitterblue was only better for it in the end.

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