Bitterblue: Kristin Cashore
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Bitterblue is the conclusion of the Seven Kingdom novels Graceling and Fire. The story focuses on a question not often asked in scifi & fantasy – what happens once the enemy is destroyed, or the great evil diverted? How does a community recover?
Graceling introduces us to the world of the Seven Kingdoms, where people check their children’s eyes every day. Those with eyes of different colours are known as Gracelings, and they are gifted with skills like healing, hand-fighting or even the ability to open their jaw as wide as their head is large.
Katsa is Graced with the ability to kill anyone, and is forced to work as an assassin for her uncle, the King of the Middluns. Driven by a sense that her life could be used for good, she founds the Council which works to undo the work of the tyrannous Randa.
Her adventures lead her to the Princess Bitterblue, daughter of the Graced King Leck of Monsea.
Fire is set a few years before Graceling and takes place over the mountains from the Seven Kingdoms in The Dells, where Monsters roam – brightly-coloured creatures who are supernaturally attractive to humans and can alter their minds. Fire is one such Monster – a woman who despises her own power and the father who tried to teach her to use it to manipulate others.
Bitterblue is the story of a city, a country, and a community coming to terms with years of confusion, terror, and torture. Bitterblue is a young Queen, attended by advisors who are terrified of the past. She knows little of her kingdom of Monsea, and begins to doubt the word of her advisors, eventually creeping out into the city at night, disguised. She soon discovers that all is not as she has been told – and someone is killing off those who know the truth of Monsea’s past, and King Leck’s deeds.
The climax of Bitterblue is harrowing as the truth begins to be uncovered. The events of King Leck’s reign are incredibly dark. I found it difficult to read at times, but there are just as many reminders that friendship and love are as powerful as fear, if not the only things which can defeat it. Katsa and Fire both make appearances in Bitterblue, coming to provide support, advice, and love to the young ruler who has no special gifts other than tenacity, compassion, curiosity.
The theme of trust which runs through the first two novels comes to a head in Bitterblue as people keep secrets to protect others, ultimately doing more harm than good. Bitterblue must walk a fine line in bringing to light the atrocities of the past, while moving forward to heal the country so it might survive in the future.
This is a truly excellent series which deals with difficult and dark subjects in a compelling and absorbing narrative, populated by believable and likeable characters in a richly developed fantasy world.