Monday, September 17, 2012

Yay for YA: Bitterblue

As I promised on Friday in my "Feature and Follow Friday" post, I would like to tell you about Kristin Cashore's latest book, Bitterblue.  But if you've read that post, you also know a bit of what I thought of it.  If you haven't, that's cool too.  Welcome to the review.

Checkouts: Coming soon to the library
Series checkouts: 23
Typical reader: YA fantasy readers, and fans of the series
Source: Snowbound Books

Synopsis: Eight years after the events of Graceling, Queen Bitterblue of Monsea is still trying to make heads or tails of what happened in her father's reign, correct wrongdoings, and be a fair and just ruler.  All these things are very hard to do.  She also sneaks out at night and meets interesting townsfolk.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars

Isn't that a beautiful cover?  I love blues and purples, and these jewel tones are so vibrant.  The gold lettering looks great with it all, too.

But you know what they say.  You can't judge a book by its cover.

Well ... thinking this will be a beautiful book is somewhat correct.  I sum it up as "beautifully boring."  The prose is excellent.  It just doesn't go anywhere.  And it takes 563 pages to do that.  This is one chunky book.  Thick books aren't a bad thing - Eona, which I reviewed earlier this year, was 637 pages, and I quite liked that one.

But this isn't just a doorstop.  While it takes forever to accomplish anything, and I did put it down for a few months to read more interesting books, this novel does have merit.

  1. Maps, illustrations, and other accoutrements.  I can really appreciate maps in books.  Fantasy novels, as well as history and historical fiction books, can be enhanced with physical representations of where the books' events happen.  This not only has maps of the lands and the castle, it also has a glossary of people (though that does contain a few spoilers), and renderings of the bridges in the capitol city.  These things please me.
  2. Katsa and Po.  While it is said that Bitterblue can be read without either Graceling or Fire, you'd be greatly missing out if you jumped right in without at least reading the former.  (Minor spoiler, but a character from Fire doesn't show up until page 500.)  This is especially true with the protagonist from Graceling and her bosom buddy.  The book brightened when Po, Bitterblue's cousin, showed up.  It became more interesting.  Bitterblue is a good character, but it really felt like Ms. Cashore put her heart into Po and Katsa.  They are intriguing, deep, mysterious, and have fascinating interpersonal relations with each other and their comrades.
  3. The librarian.  As long as I'm on the subject of great characters, let me talk about Death.  Technically pronounced "Deeth," rhyming with "Teeth," Death the Librarian is wonderful.  He can come across ill-tempered, and is often sardonic and/or sarcastic, but he's fascinating.  His Grace includes speed-reading and eidetic memory, perfect for any librarian.  And he has a cat.  It's name is ironically Lovejoy, and it has a most foul disposition.  I found myself musing on occasion how the story would be, if told from his vantage point.  (Aside: Death the Librarian tickled my fancy on a personal level, as a librarian friend goes by the nickname of Death.  I don't know her to be deadly or particularly morbid; it's just one of those aliases that get attached in college.)
  4. It's not a romance.  Ms. Cashore even says so.  There's an odd "thing" between Saf and Bitterblue, that is far more complex than just falling in love.  Or falling out of love.  Or figuring out how a queen and a ruffian should act toward each other.  But this isn't a romantic fantasy novel, and that's pretty true to Ms. Cashore's other writings.  Her strong heroines get along fine with men, but aren't dependent upon them.  I can appreciate that.
This book set me to musing over what could have made it better.  Maybe it should have been told with a focus on Saf, the scamp Bitterblue meets and becomes entangled with (in many ways) during her nighttime excursions.  I think a downfall of this book was that since it focused on the queen, there was no adventure.  If you liked the other books set in the Seven Kingdoms for the action, this is a disappointing book.  Bitterblue is mostly an observer trying to puzzle out the world around her.

The timing of the book's plot perplexed me.  It took eight years for Bitterblue to finally start wondering about how to fix her kingdom.  Why?  I cannot fathom how she wouldn't have started trying to figure things out, and realize how wrong things were close to home, when she was a teen.  Is it for the sex scene?  It's a very vague scene, not explicit at all, and something that could be glossed over by a reader who didn't realize what went on in the "fade to black" spacing between one thing and the next.  That seems unlikely, as plenty of YA books have sex.  Heck, the wonderful Song of the Lioness fantasy series by Tamora Pierce had sex in it, and that was written in the 1980s.  Anyway, I just don't get why Bitterblue didn't pursue finding out why her kingdom is so screwy until she was 18 years old.

In sum, I wanted to like this book.  I've enjoyed the other books in this world.  The story of Queen Bitterblue and her kingdom may have been a story that needed to be told, particularly if Ms. Cashore continues this line of novels and builds off what we learned in Bitterblue.  But this book was too dry, too drawn-out, and it left me wondering how it could have been better written.


  1. Sorry it was disappointing to you. I haven't read this one but I do love the cover. And the blurb makes it sound interesting. Thanks for the review! :D

    1. Thanks for reading my review! It wasn't totally awful, but it didn't live up to my expectations.

  2. I hate having to wait for something to happen. But I do like the cover.