Thursday, May 10, 2012

Review - Bitterblue (Graceling Universe, Book 3) by Kristen Cashore (4/5 stars)

Reading level: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Size: 576 pages
Publisher: Dial
Release Date: May 1, 2012
ISBN: 978-0803734739
Stand Alone or Series: 3rd book in the GRaceling Universe
Source: Review copy through Librarything’s Early Reviewer’s Program
Rating: 4/5 stars

This is the third book in the Graceling universe. It was a lengthy but very well done book about what happens ten years after the events in Graceling. It was incredibly well done, but not always the most comfortable read as Bitterblue is confronting the horrors that happened during King Leck’s realm. I have not heard of additional books in this series; so this may be the last one. I definitely recommend reading Graceling and Fire before reading this book; both books tie in with the events that happen in this story.

Bitterblue has spent many years ruling her kingdom with the help of a board of Advisors. As she gets older she is beginning to realize that more is wrong with her kingdom than she first knew. Half of her advisers seem insane and there are a number of things around the castle that don’t add up. When Bitterblue ventures outside her kingdom in disguise she meets some theives who help open her eyes to the wrongness that permeates her kingdom. Now with their help and the help of Katsa’s Council she hopes to unravel the dark mysteries of Monsea and help her kingdom to finally heal.

This book is very well done, very well written and very long. Bitterblue is an excellent character who is just so human and so real. Bitterblue makes mistakes that you might imagine a new queen would make and at times she makes decisions that are a bit hurtful to others or selfish. That being said she is really trying to do what she thinks is right; the problem is that she is human and at times not all that sure about what is right.

The romance between Bitterblue and Saf is bittersweet and complicated. The romance really doesn’t drive the plot much, but it does occasionally drive some of Bitterblue’s decisions. And Bitterblue’s struggle between being Queen and being in love (although something explored in many stories before) is compelling.

All of our favorite characters are back in this story. We get to spend time with Po, Katsa, and many other characters from Graceling. It was wonderful, if sometimes bittersweet, to have all these characters back in one story together.

This is a complicated story and I enjoyed the complex plot, but at times it gets overly complex. At points there were so many side plots going on that it was hard to tell where the story was going. The whole deal with ciphers was kind of, well, unnecessary. I enjoyed the part it played in the plot, but I really don’t think the reader needed to know exactly how the ciphers were developed and solved. It just drew the story out. Some readers might enjoy this kind of excruciating detail but I am not one of them.

Additionally in the beginning I was frustrated with how slowly Bitterblue made progress in solving her mysteries. This slow pace did an excellent job of conveying BItterblue’s frustration, but it also made the reader feel frustrated and at times a bit bored. I was also a bit confused about why Bitterblue was so complacent for the first 10 years of her reign and only now was beginning to question some of the strange things around her.

The world created is wonderful. It is so detailed, complex, and well thought out. It is a wonderful fantasy world and I loved reading about The Seven Kingdoms and hope we get to read more stories set here in the future.

The above being said the story does an excellent job of tying everything together in the end. The last 100 pages or so, where all of the mysteries are solved and things start to tie together, was a real pleasure to read. I love how in the end the events of Graceling and Fire both tie into Bitterblue’s story. It is a very satisfying ending and feels like things really come full circle.

A quick caution that this is a very dark book. Bitterblue is uncovering Leck’s secrets and he was a very evil person. As such there is a lot of talk of torture, rape (including rape of children), and other very unsavory details that made me a little uncomfortable. So I would recommend this to older YA readers.

Overall I found this to be a great but long read. I enjoyed Bitterblue’s story but at times wondered if we really needed to spend so much time on ciphers and if the plot really needed to be as complex as it was. The book does an excellent job of bringing together the events that happened in Graceling and Fire. This is not a simple straight-forward story like Graceling and Fire, it is incredibly complex. Not a ton of action but mostly politics and mysteries. I definitely enjoyed Graceling more than this book, but this was still a very strong fantasy book in its own right. I would recommend this to fans of the previous two books and also to fans of intrigue/mystery based fantasy.

This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
- 150+ Books Reading Challenge

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