Dial / May 1, 2012 / $19.99 print, $10.99 digital
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.
Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue, the sequel to the YA fantasy novel Graceling and a companion to Fire, is as enchanting a read as its predecessors, not least because it brings the return of several favorite characters.
Set eight years after the events of Graceling, Bitterblue is the story of eighteen-year-old Queen Bitterblue of Monsea, the daughter of Graceling’s villain, the mad King Leck. But as Graceling’s unforgettable heroine, Katsa—gifted with an extreme skill, or Grace, for survival—once saved the then-eight-year-old Bitterblue (and by extension her kingdom) from her evil father, it was no great surprise to learn that Katsa would appear in Bitterblue. And since you can’t have Katsa without Prince Po of Leinid (Katsa’s lover, not to mention Bitterblue’s cousin) and friends like Lord Giddon of the Middluns (and more, but I’ll leave the rest for you to discover on your own), their presence was expected too.
Still, the idea of seeing these characters again paled in comparison to the reality, which was so much better.
When we left them at the end of Graceling, Katsa and Po had confessed their love and entered into an unorthodox relationship that worked for them. They knew they’d spend a lot of time apart as agents for the Council—an organization Katsa founded to undermine the seven kingdoms’s corrupt rulers and to help their victims whenever possible—but also knew they’d always come back to each other.
While their situation hasn’t changed all that much by the opening chapters of Bitterblue—in fact, thanks to the continuing success of the Council, they have only become more busy—Katsa and Po are as in love as ever, if not moreso. Which is why it’s fascinating to see this couple from another perspective: that of Bitterblue, their biggest fan, who nevertheless envies just a little their all-consuming love for each other (and really, who wouldn’t?).
And indeed, much as I adored the entire novel, moments like this one...
Suddenly Po shot into the courtyard from the north vestibule, whooping. Katsa, seeing him, broke into a run and they tore at each other through the wash. Just before the moment of impact, Po shifted to one side, crouched, scooped Katsa up, and, with admirable precision, propelled them both sideways into the pool. (p. 130)
...and this one...
“Move over,” [Katsa] said to Po, shoving his legs.
“Hello,” he said. “Would it kill you to ask nicely?”
“I’ve been asking nicely for at least ten seconds and you’ve been ignoring me. Move over. I want to sit down.”
Po made a show of beginning to move out of the way, then flipped himself off the sofa and flattened her. “So predictable,” Bitterblue muttered as the two of them began wrestling on the floor. (p. 524)
...were some of my absolute favorite bits, and those aren’t even the most emotional ones. Epic love is epic, am I right? And they both further worm their way into readers’s hearts with their total commitment to Bitterblue and their willingness to help her in any way possible (and she needs them a great deal).
Then there was Giddon, a member of Katsa’s band of rebels since before the start of Graceling and the book’s biggest (and most welcome) surprise to me. Previously seen only through Katsa’s less favorable eyes (he pressed her for marriage for all the wrong reasons and she had to turn him down rather emphatically before he got the message), Giddon has changed a lot in eight years. Not only has he become even more dedicated to the Council and its cause, but he’s also grown close to Po and, over the course of the book, arguably comes to be Bitterblue’s most trusted confidant.
Whether it’s this new perspective or that Giddon’s matured (I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between), in Bitterblue we see that Giddon is honest, loyal, and an all around good friend. It also doesn’t hurt that he says things like:
“For what it’s worth, Lady Queen...I understand that your trust is a gift, not something I’ve earned. I promise to guard faithfully, as secret, anything you choose to tell me.” (p. 202)
How can you not fall for him with lines like that?
For glimpses into the hearts of these characters and more, Bitterblue was a pleasure to read and a lovely addition to the Graceling series.
*Please note that all quotes were taken from a review copy and are subject to change.
Heather Waters is a production associate at H&H and a 24/7 fangirl. Tweet her @redline_