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Bitterblue (Graceling)
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238 of 256 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2012
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
After reading the negative reviews on this novel, I wanted to set the record straight for those considering reading it.

First and foremost, this is Kristin Cashore's third novel, an extension of the stories begun in Graceling and Fire. These books tell the stories of two wildly different young women: Katsa, a Graced killer, and Fire, a beautiful human Monster. Each of these first two books differs greatly in tone, since Fire is a much more fragile girl than Katsa, who is wildly independent and self-sufficient. Bitterblue is named for the main character, Queen Bitterblue, who is yet another unique heroine. The books do not need to be read in order for readers to enjoy the stories, though this order does present some unique insights into the development of Leck's character.

Fans of Cashore's work (myself included) have been anticipating Bitterblue for a couple of years now, and I think that many readers, especially teens, were expecting Bitterblue to be as action-packed as the first two novels. These readers may find themselves disappointed, as this is the tale of a queen who (mostly) plays it safe, remains within her city, and has no special talent for fighting or mind control. Aside from having been born queen, Bitterblue is a normal human being, which is actually rather refreshing, since readers are not Gracelings or Monsters themselves. It gives us an idea of what it feels like to muddle through the Seven Kingdoms world without special, inborn talents. Though this change of character yields very different results from her first two books, it demonstrates Cashore's stylistic nimbleness and prevents her from following the same formulaic, cookie-cutter structures as other authors. I think that many of the people who dislike this book do so because they anticipated a series like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, in which the story is one continuous arc unified by a single main character. This is not Cashore's yarn and I, for one, love her for it.

On the other hand, one way in which all three characters are similar is their sexual freedom, which is refreshing and necessary for young women to see and understand. As twenty-something woman who has spent her fair share of time feeling that sexuality was for boys only, I can honestly say that the care with which Cashore treats the topic of young feminine sexuality is careful, honest, and liberating. Very few YA authors allow female characters to actively participate in their own sexuality, which is too bad. In our post-feminist age, the repression of women's sexuality serves as a patriarchal yoke under which women still struggle despite our supposedly liberated status. All of Cashore's heroines make active choices with regards to romantic companionship; both Fire and Katsa are presented with young men whom they could marry who are acceptable candidates in that they are rich, handsome, and friends, but the chemistry just isn't right, and so each young woman walks away. Meanwhile, Katsa, Fire, and Bitterblue all pursue matches who are men they truly respect and with whom they feel a compatibility of spirit, regardless of rank and convenience. Furthermore, marriage is not pressed as a required state for feminine sexuality to take place, but is offered as a possible state of being for couples who feel comfortable with that level of commitment. I know that this take on marriage and sexuality will be bothersome to some readers, but I feel that this is a conversation that in our Twilight-obsessed world is too often overlooked, to the detriment of young women the world over.

The other reason why I loved Bitterblue was because it is a mind-bender. It's like reading a Sherlock Holmes novel in some ways, because little hints and clues from the very first chapter carry over throughout the remainder of the novel. Bitterblue faces betrayal in the present and specters of her family's past, and Cashore does not shy away from these touchy subjects, even though it would certainly have been easy to do so. Yes, there are certainly moments in the novel which most readers will find uncomfortable, but Cashore is willing to take her readers into the dark recesses of the human spirit in order to shed light and prove that tragic histories are not prophecies of future doom. I think that many teens with troubled pasts will find Bitterblue's struggles validating and reassuring because the novel promises that there can be peace after terror.

Overall, Cashore is an author of incredible dexterity. Her work reminds me of Tamora Pierce's writing in many ways (an author she herself claims as a source of great inspiration), and I anticipate only great things from her in the future, whatever characters and universes she chooses to bring to life.
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109 of 132 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I was very much looking forward to this book after reading Cashore's Fire and Graceling in preparation. I have to say, though, that I came away from it pretty disappointed, for a variety of reasons. (Warning: there will be spoilers here for the preceding books.) Cashore's concept is pretty ambitious: Bitterblue has grown up and is trying to rule a kingdom that had suffered under her evil, mind-controlling father for 35 years. Her advisors and many of the people around her still aren't in their right minds. Understandably, trying to function in this situation could be pretty frustrating, but I felt that Cashore brought that frustration a bit too close to the reader. It was hard to appreciate the story when many of the characters were so erratic and the protagonist was just caught in a bubble of confusion. I certainly don't mind a book that focuses on political intrigue rather than action, but the intrigues here just didn't make sense. Adding to that, I hardly recognized Bitterblue herself; she seemed like a quietly competent child when we met her last, but as an 18-year-old she seemed sort of clueless. I'm not sure what she was supposed to have been doing for the past 8 years, besides sitting under a mountain of paper, but I found it strained credibility that she had absolutely no idea about the layout of her own castle, barely remembering that her father had had an art gallery and possibly never having known the location of various more functional sub-buildings. Similarly, she had no idea who most of the people were, and had apparently been content just to sit around signing papers until the story began.

There were some promising parts, like when Bitterblue started sneaking out of the palace to interact with regular people in a way reminiscent of Disney's Princess Jasmine, because the regular people actually had reasonable personalities, unlike the palace staff. But eventually that ended, and we were back with all the crazy people in the palace. I just found the whole thing sort of frustrating, and read on because I wanted to find out how it all got resolved rather than because I was enjoying the experience. That made the book feel too long. And even the resolution wasn't particularly satisfying; it seemed anticlimactic after all the confusion and intrigues, and I didn't feel like I had really learned that much more about the mysteries of Leck's reign by the end of it. Details of the horrible things he'd done, yes, but not so much the psychology behind it.

I'll reflect on the story a bit more in the next few days, but I think my feeling of disappointment will remain.

---------

Updated to add further thoughts from the next day, with spoilers:

I think one of the problems may be that Cashore is more concerned with making comments about our world than about dealing with difficult issues in the context of her world. It's not that she doesn't face these difficult issues; characters often think about them, but I didn't really get a sense of satisfactory resolution. Here are a couple of examples:

There's a lot of focus on overthrowing monarchs who abuse their power, and on providing better systems of government for these kingdoms. Bitterblue herself reads from a book called "Monarchy is Tyranny" that her father had tried to destroy. But there's an obvious conflict here: Bitterblue herself is queen, and intends to remain queen. She realizes that this is a conflict, but doesn't really do anything about it. There's not even any suggestion of instituting a different system of government upon her death. This is in clear contrast to Fire, who sees that the power of monsters is too unpredictable and so takes difficult and decisive action to ensure that there won't be any more human monsters in the world.

In a similar vein, Cashore makes a point of emphasizing that homosexuality is okay. Bitterblue even suggests that Raffin may eventually be able to change the laws in the Middluns to allow gay marriage. But there's no real resolution to the much trickier question of what will happen when it's the king who's gay, and yet is expected to produce an heir. Of course there are various possible solutions, but these weren't really explored--and I couldn't help feeling that this was because the focus was really on our world, and not on the Seven Kingdoms. For us, it's enough to say that gay marriage should be allowed. But I'm more interested in exploring the political consequences of various decisions in their world than in listening to general moralizing, even when it's a point of view that I happen to support.

I don't know if I'm way off-base here, but there's a comment in the acknowledgements about Po's disability that really made me realize how focused Cashore is on political correctness. And when I started looking back at Bitterblue with the idea that Cashore was very concerned with political messaging, a lot of the less satisfying parts of the book seemed to make more sense to me. I think that Bitterblue isn't so much about taking a new world and seeing how it will develop on its own as it is about imposing certain attitudes from our own world into a fantasy setting, and I'm not sure that the result is entirely satisfactory.

I'd like to know what things will look like 50 years from now in the Middluns and in Monsea. There are some difficult political issues that will have to be resolved, and I don't think that the ending of Bitterblue really comes close to that resolution. The really hard decisions are left for the future.

I've seen some people say that the problem with Bitterblue is that there's too much politics and not enough action. I both agree and disagree. I think there's too much politics only because the politics isn't done very well; Cashore is stronger when she writes a more traditional quest narrative, like that in Graceling. Politics and intrigue require more nuance and shades of grey, and I didn't really see a lot of that here. There was plenty of confusion, yes, but in the end, every character was either purely good or purely bad at heart, regardless of what evils Leck may have forced them to perform. And I'd like to have seen at least the good characters making more difficult decisions: Will Raffin choose duty or love? What will happen if Bitterblue's heir turns out to be evil? (Because we saw in the prologue of Fire that Leck's evilness didn't come from childhood abuse or anything; he was literally just born that way.)

Sorry for making my additional comments longer than my original review. One thing I can say is that Bitterblue didn't leave my thoughts when I finished it: I'm still turning it over and over in my mind a day later, trying to figure out how a work that I was so excited about could have left me feeling so disappointed. I think it's a testament to Cashore's storytelling ability that I feel so strongly about this. I'd certainly encourage everyone to read Graceling and Fire.
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38 of 47 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
It's been nearly nine years since Bitterblue became queen after her tyrannical father's rule, and the kingdom of Monsea is still struggling. Monsea has undergone tremendous change, but the young queen finds herself buried under paperwork, unaware of what truly happens outside of her tower. So she sneaks out one night and goes into the city, pretending to be peasant in various taverns. It's not long before she meets Saf and Teddy, two young thieves who steal to right the wrongs of King Leck. Bitterblue befriends them and, not realizing she is their queen, the two young men open her eyes to the true state of her kingdom, and the cause for it--betrayal and deception among those Bitterblue trusts the most.

Kristin Cashore has written another magnificent novel, just as riveting and emotional as Graceling and Fire. Bitterblue is such a wonderful main character--she's inquisitive and brave, and even though she struggles with the day to day business of being queen and managing her advisers, her passion for her country and the people is genuine. Her decision to go into the city is as much of an attempt to learn more about her kingdom as it is a step of freedom made for her own sake. Throughout the novel she must deal with all sorts of inner pain and doubt when it comes to the memories of her parents, the confusing time spent with Leck, and trying to learn the truth about all of the things she doesn't understand. Saf and Teddy aren't able to help her directly with these problems, but put her on the right path towards figuring them out. With the help of trusted friends and family members, she slowly begins to uncover a conspiracy to hide what Leck did and deciphers the secrets both parents kept encrypted.

There are many twists and turns throughout the plot, plenty of skillful and (sometimes) surprising character development, and a good deal of heartbreak as Bitterblue delves into the darkest memories of Monsea in order to better understand how to help her country heal. This theme of uncovering the truth and moving beyond a legacy of pain and suffering is strong and wrought with pain, but it's executed perfectly in Cashore's skilled hand. Her writing is expressive, complex, and full of feeling. She's spectacularly talented, and the way she weaves Bitterblue's story together with the prequels Graceling and Fire is both impressive and delightful. Bitterblue is full of perfect amounts of drama, pain, emotion, humor, and romance with a stunning ending that will leave readers wondering where Cashore will take them next.

Cover Comments: I love the cover. The blue and purple are pretty, and the keys are so significant to the book. Not only does Bitterblue have to unlock secrets of her past, but she also does some literal unlocking as well. The cover is gorgeous!
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I was very disappointed with Bitterblue. I really liked Graceling and Fire. I didn't think that either book was perfect, but I loved the two worlds that Cashore created. Bitterblue is composed almost entirely of the weak elements of the previous two books.

The whole book reads like a tortured and torturous metaphor for some deep wound. While reading, I constantly felt like every character that I met was not actually a person, but some symbol for something or someone else. The obsession with cyphers felt like like a clumsy metaphor. The characters from the other books who make an appearance here are utterly gutted of their complexity and wholeness. The only characters who actually offer any intrigue, the Truthseekers, are completely under-developed (Teddy) or lose their substance in filling our stereo-typical jerk/love interest tropes (Saf). There is really almost no plot, and the character development is almost non-existent.

And the work could not support the crushing weight of the imposition of the author's personality and worldview. The contraception and gay-rights elements felt so utterly forced, bolted-on and propaganda-ish. They take you out of Bitterblue's world and crash you into ours.

It feels like the whole book is just a vehicle for something else, and because of it, the book has almost no substance of its own. I say skip it, which is a shame, because I was really looking forward to stepping into this world again.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
(SPOILERS!!)
I adore Kristin Cashore's first two books, and I, like many others, eagerly awaited the publication of Bitterblue. It wasn't a bad book, and I'm glad that I bought it, but when I finished reading it I was disappointed. I knew before I started it that Bitterblue would be a different kind of book than Cashore's first two. Graceling and Fire were heavy on the action, while Bitterblue has a much more complicated plot, almost more like a thriller or a mystery novel. Some people didn't like this change, but I thought the storyline was well done. I found the plot to be well-paced, intelligent, and page-turning.

It took me awhile to pinpoint exactly what bothered me so much about Bitterblue, and I eventually realized that part it was the characters. I think one of Cashore's greatest strengths as an author is creating wonderful, endearing, realistic characters who you can't help but fall in love with. Yes, some of my favorite characters popped up, and those were my favorite parts to read, but I just really couldn't connect to any of the new characters in Bitterblue. Teddy annoyed me because he was written as such a perfect, innocent, wrongly-punished nice guy that I sort of wanted to vomit whenever he appeared (and then there was that cringe-inducing line "he's only trying to teach people to read!"). Hava, Madlen, Bren, etc.... I couldn't care less about most of them. Bitterblue herself certainly comes across as intelligent and thoughtful, and I respected her a lot, but I didn't love her the way I loved Katsa, Fire, Nash, Po etc.... or even as much as I had loved Bitterblue's younger self in Graceling. And Saf? I was completely uninterested in his character. If someone can give me any qualities of his that were supposed to make us really care about him, I would honestly love to hear them. He meets Bitterblue, is sort of nice to her, gets angry with her, steals her crown, spends the majority of the novel making her beg for forgiveness, sleeps with her, then leaves her. Soooooo when was I supposed to like this guy? It's definitely a downer when you couldn't care less about the romantic arc of a novel, especially when I loved both the romances in Cashore's previous books. There were some glimpses of wonderful new characters, basically Death (and Lovejoy), and the villains in the book were truly and horrifyingly villainous, so I know Kristin Cashore hasn't lost her knack for creating some of the best characters around. However, on the whole, I feel like she sacrificed memorable characters in order to focus on a more complicated plot.

Another thing that bothered me was Cashore's rather heavy-handed attempts at being politically correct. She obviously cares a lot about showcasing different races and different sexual orientations. Now you'd be hard-pressed to find another straight, white girl who supports gay rights/racial diversity more than I do, but I felt that Cashore tried a wee bit too hard to insert them into the book. I like that Raffin's gay, and I think that works, but then she just brings in two random female characters, doesn't have them do much, informs us that they're lesbians who hope the brother of one of them will impregnate them so they can have a kid, and then basically remove them from the plot. It just felt fake, like maybe she had a homosexual character quota to fill. Also, now Fire and everyone else from the Dells has brown skin? Again, this was just sort of thrown in there, after not being mentioned at all in Fire. I've seen racial diversity done way better, particularly in Ursula K. Le Guin's "A Wizard of Earthsea" series. This just felt like Kristin Cashore was flipping through her books, realized "oh crap everybody's white!" then randomly decided to change the race of numerous characters after she's already written a book about them. It didn't feel real, and I while personally think that ignoring racial and sexual differences is bad, so is awkwardly forcing them into a storyline just to "prove" how much you care.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Bitterblue is a book I really wanted to like. Graceling was the book on which my own writing style was built, and to this day, I love it to death. Fire, though a bit romantic for my tastes, was nonetheless a great companion to the first book, even if it didn't feature the familiar cast of characters I'd grown fond of. So it pains me to look back and see how much I didn't Bitterblue, and the number of times I closed the book out of boredom, frustration, or the mind-numbing stupidity.

Like some other reviews have stated, the prologue is strong enough. As a rule, I tend to skip prologues, but Bitterblue's was interesting enough that I sat through it all the way to chapter one. It left me intrigued, and eager for what would inevitably be an incredible addition to the series that defined my literary life.

Jesus, it pains me to see just how wrong I was.

Though my thoughts on the books contents are long, I will paraphrase: it reads like fanfiction. Close to three-hundred pages in, I closed the book and was reminded of the many stories I've trudged through on that shitstain that is Fanfiction.net. Though it gives me no pleasure to do so, I must compare Bitterblue to them. They way characters show up, only to be shoved to the back of the story and driven HORRIBLY out of character reminds me a great deal of fanfiction. What's sadder is that Cashore is doing this to her own characters.

Sadly, the old characters are the only interesting ones. Outside of Teddy, a Graced writer who doesn't see enough screen time for my liking, none the new characters endear me to them. Bitterblue herself is a bland, empty vessel, existing only so that the story might revolve around her. She lacks the charm and personality that made Katsa and Fire so much fun to follow. There came a point where I would dread reading her internal narratives, hoping (often in vain) that some other character would save me from the sheer monotony of it all.

What must also be mentioned is the plot, or lack thereof. At three-quarters of the way through the book, I still wouldn't have been able to tell you what the long-term conflict was. There was isolated incidents of conflict, sure, and there was the premise of Bitterblue inheriting rule of the kingdom of Monsea from her psychotic father, but that's just a premise. The book trundles through hundreds of pages while only ever teasing at a true plot. Admittedly, I've not reached the end yet, so I don't know if it ever wraps things up, but the plot is still a load of old crap.

It's just so

much

crap.

There is so much bad in this book that everything redeeming is canceled out. The writing style is still solid, but it's buried beneath so much shit that it's left floundering. Pass on this book. Don't make the same mistake I did when I sank twenty bones into a hardcover copy.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I imagine it's hard for authors of series, regardless of the genre, to learn when to "let go." So many good series, especially in fantasy, are ruined or at least lose their luster over time because the created world hits a creative wall. Normally, after three books, readers of F/SF are still exploring and getting to know the world. Unfortunately, I think that's the biggest problem with this novel--there's no mystery left.

I can't say it's not well-written; it is. The characters are sympathetic (maybe overly so). The intrigue should be interesting, but it's not. It has all the hallmarks of good fantasy, yet it falls flat. I just wasn't interested. I downloaded the book the first day it was available, and just finished it this past week.

After thinking about it for a couple of days, I think the problem is there wasn't enough of a story to carry it through a full-length novel. From Graceling, I really wanted to know what became of Bitterblue and how the Monsean kingdom goes about rebuilding itself. It turns out though I didn't want to know that much, and I don't think Kristin Cashore did either. It might be trite, but there needs to be a more compelling bad guy than one long dead and a few completely broken old men. The larger-than-life figures of Katsa and Po dominate the scenes they're in, probably because they are the only fleshed out characters in the book. I found myself way more intrested in what was going on with them and the Council than the mystery of what was going on in the castle. For what's supposed to be Bitterblue's story, there's a helluva lot going on: conspiracy upon conspiracy, love interests, fighting, new graces to be discovered, crazy statue girl--the list goes on and on. As a result, the story meandered more than mad Leck's maze.

This story would have worked better as a novella, or as a minor storyline in a book featuring the goings-on of the Seven Kingdoms. I don't think though the Graceling world has enough juice for another full-length novel or set of novels unless a new facet of the world is introduced. A book of short stories, however, would be perfect.

I recommend it in the sense that it's always nice to know what becomes of young characters, but I'd wait for the paperback.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Like a number of other reviewers here, I considered Bitterblue a must-buy, having loved Graceling and Fire. Unlike many, I was initially skeptical on hearing that the third book was about Bitterblue. After Graceling, I did not feel her story needed to be told, any more than I feel I need to know about the people who clean up Tokyo after a Mothra rampage, or how those cute kids who befriend Godzilla turned out as adults. I felt that Bitterblue had served her purpose as a character. But after Graceling and Fire, I had faith in Ms. Cashore to deliver no matter what lead she chose.

Turns out my skepticism was warranted, because Bitterblue (the book and character) are just dull. A lead character certainly does not need to be Graced, but he or she does need charm. Katsa had a charming arrogance. Fire had charming self-hate. Bitterblue's just a generic teen heroine out to be a big girl and solve a mystery on her own. There is nothing special about her, unless you count her very modern and distracting affectations, such as a Rain Man like ability with numbers (far beyond any medieval understanding) and support for gay rights and universal literacy. Katsa ran head-on into danger; Fire accepted it when it was thrust on her by a good plot; but Bitterblue cautiously dips her toe into danger a few times, runs back to curl up in bed and think about it, maybe has a little cry, and then gets fitted for a new dress. That's probably realistic, but to me it's not entertaining. I'm sorry, but by page 150, I don't believe that a heroine should be sitting at a desk pondering writing to her uncle for advice on paying reparations to wronged peasants.

I could continue to be harsh, but the two and three star reviews here have done well in pointing out the various flaws which made this book a disappointment. It really does seem like a different author than Graceling and Fire. It's as if a favorite band has suddenly decided to release a jazz album. Bitterblue is effectively in a different subgenre than the last two books, and it's not one I care for. I suspect Ms Cashore may have fallen victim to the mythology she's created, allowing herself to believe that any lead character doing anything in the Graceling universe is sufficient to satisfy her following. Yes, it answers "What happened to...." for those who were dying to know. I personally did not feel the excellent Graceling had loose ends. Yes, there was room for a sequel, but one wasn't essential, especially if the result is Bitterblue.

For those Graceling fans who were disappointed by this book, or have been scared away from it by the negative reviews, I very strongly recommend Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book I (His Fair Assassin Trilogy) by R.L. LaFevers. It has much, much more in common with Graceling than Bitterblue does.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2012
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I would just like to start off saying that I am a huge fan of Kristin Cashore. I had awaited Bitterblue to be released for a while now (I even pre-ordered it) so when it finally came out I was so excited to read it. As I read it though I didn't feel the same face-paced action that I felt with Graceling and Fire. Bitterblue was a let down to me because she spent majority of her days doing Queen work. Kate's and Fire were more free in their stories to do whatever they felt like doing so there was more action and adventure...whereas Bitterblue was stuck most of the time in the castle. The plot was okay because it helped to explain what went on during Leck's reign. This book was also missing the flare of a love connection between her and Saf. I liked in the previous books Katsa+Po & Fire+Brigain...idk this book just lacked the Bitterblue+Saf.
I also hated how mostly everyone was just liars it made the plot just more confusing because the characters profiles keep changing. On the upside though you couldn't really tell where this book was going so it added mystery which is why I kept reading.
I think my favorite character would be Death. Thought his grace was pretty useful. I wouldn't b disappointed if I had a grace like his.
I really hope she writes another book just so that I'm not left hanging like how I felt after finishing Bitterblue.
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27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover
It's with a heavy heart that I'm giving Bitterblue only 2 stars. This book was one of the most anticipated reads of the year for me and will go down my personal history as one of the most massive disappointments. It has to be acknowledged, though, that most of the reviews of Bitterblue so far have been very positive and contained words like "genius" and "masterpiece" in them. My opinion appears to be out of norm.

After recently rereading both Kristin Cashore's earlier books, I feel that with each new one she moves away from the simplicity of her debut Graceling (and what I personally like to read) and in a direction that I can't follow. I enjoyed the action/romance/magic mixture of Graceling and mostly liked Fire, even though some of it was boring and over-complicated (I'm talking about the ball conspiracy scene), but Bitterblue is a completely different beast, a story that is confusing and indulgently long.

I've always felt after finishing Graceling that Bitterblue's story had to be told. She carries such a dreadful legacy - a deranged, mind-manipulating father, a country damaged by the 35-year long abuse by Leck's twisted magic, Bitterblue's own childhood traumas. All of this is in the novel.

Bitterblue is 18 now, a rightful queen of Monsea, running her kingdom efficiently enough with the help of her advisers who urge her to forget the horrors of the past and look forward. But then she starts noticing that there is something really wrong going on around her. People act irrationally, they lie about the smallest things, they make no sense. She ventures outside the walls of her castle, to meet regular people and to find out the real state of things in her country. Bitterblue comes across even more odd behaviors and crimes. She does her best to untangle the web of lies, puzzles and madness...

The truths Bitterblue uncovers are powerful, and they have to be explored. But I feel like Cashore arrives at those truths by a route that is too complicated, convoluted and scattered. Too many side plots, too much talk of ciphers and codes, too many characters coming and going, too many illogical occurrences that instead of making the story more intricate, end up making it too busy and messy.

I am definitely a fan of twisty, complicated plots. Bitterblue has that, it strives to be something akin to Megan Whalen Turner's and Melina Marchetta's fantasy novels (these three authors appear to draw inspiration from each other's works). But whereas I was consumed by Turner's and Marchetta's mysteries, trying to spot what was wrong and who was lying and why and guessing the connections among the characters, reading Bitterblue was mostly a confusing and irritating experience. Events and characters in this novel are completely insane. They make no sense, they defy logic, they stand out to any person as odd. Most of the book I spent repeating Bitterblue's own thoughts: What is going on? And why is everyone acting so crazy? As a mystery, Bitterblue did not work for me at all. Untangling a mystery in which no one even makes an effort to pretend to act normally is too much a challenge for me.

There are things I did like in Bitterblue. The prologue, containing a scene of Leck mind-raping Bitterblue and her mother is, in my opinion, the best piece of Cashore's writing, horrifying and affecting.

We also meet quite a few characters from the author's prior novels. Many I am sure will be happy to see Po and Katsa again (although they seem to be a lot more... animated than they were in Graceling).

And the last hundred pages, where some secrets are uncovered and things start coming together, are much more pleasurable to read.

But even keeping the positives in mind, I can't say I enjoyed reading Bitterblue. It was a challenge, it was a struggle.

I am waiting for more readers to review the novel to see if there are people out there who share my assessment of it or my reaction to Bitterblue is just a result of a severe case of reader/book incompatibility.
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