Bitterblue was only a girl of eight when her father, King Leck, reigned supreme in Monsea, one of the seven kingdoms. King Leck was graced with the ability to make people think and behave however he wanted them to, and the people in the kingdom of Monsea suffered under this terrible spell, often unaware of the crimes and atrocities they were committing. Only after Katsa, a young woman graced with the ability to survive impossible circumstances, killed Leck and rescued Bitterblue was Monsea able to emerge from its fog and start living again. Under the careful watch of her advisors, Bitterblue was annointed queen of Monsea and plodded through the next 10 years of her reign without much thought about what it means to be a queen and how to make sense of her country’s sordid history.
"What I appreciate most about Kristin Cashore’s storytelling is that while everything takes place in a fictional kingdom where people are blessed with extraordinary skills, the issues and problems they encounter are completely relatable to any reader who picks up these books."
For her part, Bitterblue tries to block out the painful memories of her time with Leck, especially since he killed her mother. The same could be said for Monsea. All crimes committed under Leck’s reign have been pardoned, and it’s time to move forward and focus on the future. But Bitterblue notices in the faces of those around her that simply trying to forget isn’t enough. So she decides to sneak out of the castle and see what the people on the streets are doing in order to move on. She stumbles upon taverns where stories are being told, many of them exaggerated, to soothe the fears of people and ultimately befriends a thief, Saf, who is after the same thing as Bitterblue --- the truth.
As any reader of epic fantasies knows, the truth is never as simple as it seems. Saf introduces Bitterblue to his friends and their primary objective: seek the truth of what Leck was doing during his reign. Inspired by Saf’s unquenchable desire to right the wrongs of Leck’s reign, Bitterblue decides to do a little investigating on her own. Her advisors have other ideas, though, and she is forced to try and investigate the past while being bombarded by useless paperwork and other tasks to keep her busy. With the sneaking around during the day to avoid her duties and the sneaking around at night to spend time with Saf, she soon finds that uncovering the truth will be time-consuming and even painful.
Nevertheless, Bitterblue is determined, and she soon enlists help from Katsa, her cousin Po, her personal assistant Helda, Saf, and other people she can trust in the castle and from afar. Unfortunately, once the group starts investigating, more and more puzzling information emerges. What will it take to crack these puzzles? Is it worth it to know the truth, or is it better just to try and block it from memory? These questions and more ultimately will be answered, but at what cost?
As the sequel to GRACELING and companion to FIRE, BITTERBLUE once again invites readers into the realm of the seven kingdoms and all of their unique inhabitants. What I appreciate most about Kristin Cashore’s storytelling is that while everything takes place in a fictional kingdom where people are blessed with extraordinary skills, the issues and problems they encounter are completely relatable to any reader who picks up these books. I also like how there is no fairy tale ending. People try to do the best with what they are given, and they don’t shy away from tackling the truth despite how much it may hurt.
While reading the first two installments is not necessary to understand and enjoy BITTERBLUE, why wouldn’t you? These books are some of the best fantasy literature out there to consume. Dig in!
Reviewed by Benjamin Boche on May 31, 2012