Mini Reviews · Reviews

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (Book 3)

# of Pages: 539

Time it took me to read: 5 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 77

Rating: 4 out of 5

A quick personal note:

Hi everyone! I apologize for disappearing without a trace! I’ve been trying to do a post every 7 to 10 days, but have failed spectacularly the last three weeks or so, and for that I’m sorry. My friend and I are currently doing Camp Nano, so we have a goal of each writing 30,000 words this month, which takes up most of my free time! Bitterblue is genuinely the only book I’ve read since my last post, and I’m glad to finally get to bring you the last of the mini reviews for the Graceling series.

Thanks for your patience, those who have stuck with me!

Ever since the death of her father when she was only ten years old, Bitterblue has been queen of Monsea. Now eighteen, she is doing her best to help her people escape from her father’s horrific thirty-five year reign. But how can she help the Monseans who live in her city if it feels as though her advisors keep her trapped in her office all day under a mountain of paperwork?

Bitterblue thinks she has a pretty good idea of what it was like to live in terror under the rule of her father, but when she starts sneaking out at night in disguise and meeting her citizens, she finds that she really has no idea. She finds that her citizens are still suffering, and someone with power is working to make sure that Monseans stay in the dark about the crimes of their former king. Bitterblue’s new friends think that the queen is behind it all, but how can she defend herself when no one knows who she truly is?

With the help of some familiar faces and new allies, Bitterblue works to get to the bottom of what is going wrong in Monsea. Because someone is working against all that she has tried to build in the eight years of her reign, and if Monsea is ever to recover from the memory of Leck’s cruel kingship, the truth must be revealed so everyone who ever knew him can heal.

Review:

This is the only Graceling book that I haven’t read more than once, which was when the book was released in 2012, so almost ten years ago. At the time I was seventeen, and I thought the book was a bit of a letdown. Almost no action, little romance, especially compared to Graceling and Fire I found this book a disappointment.

Well, I can’t tell you how happy I am to have given this a re-read as an adult. Because though this book is YA, there are a lot of adult themes throughout this story, and I feel like when I first read it I was too young to appreciate them. 

Honestly, I think I would personally rank this book above Fire and below Graceling and here’s why: though this book is even more of a political intrigue than Fire is, Bitterblue has a much more engaging plot that kept me turning the pages faster than I did for Fire. Fire had a little bit more action, but it was mostly a character study wrapped in a spy story, which I still enjoyed, but Bitterblue had a big mystery threaded throughout, and the consequences and fallout are devastating, Cashore does not shy away from some unhappy endings here, which is I think a large part of the problem I had with it when I was young.

Another thing that Bitterblue has that Fire doesn’t is pretty much all your favorite characters from the previous books, which is great if you, like me, did not get nearly enough Po and Katsa in Graceling alone. 

As far as pacing goes, I mentioned it above, but I thought this book was quite well paced, despite being the longest of the three books in the series so far. There are so many puzzles that Bitterblue is trying to solve all at once, so there is certainly enough to keep one engaged page after page.

One of my favorite things about Bitterblue that I think wasn’t quite as strong or memorable in the previous two stories were the rich, well developed side characters. This story has a large cast, but I feel as though a lot of time and effort is given to developing backstories and personalities of the many people who revolve in and out of Bitterblue’s world. She isn’t the most unique or “special” protagonist out there, but those who surround her make her very interesting to read about, if only due to her interactions with others.

I’ll only spend a line or two talking about world building, because you know if you’ve read these books, or if you’ve even read my last two reviews, that Kristin Cashore is a brilliant worldbuilder, and the rich uniqueness and diversity of her world and her kingdoms is evident, despite the entire story taking place in Bitterblue’s capital city.

One of the beautiful things about this group of books is that in each Kristin Cashore seems to push herself to do something different, to challenge herself, and even though all three take place in the same world, each story brings something new to the table. I really can’t wait to see what the latest installment, Winterkeep, has to offer.

I’m going to briefly return to my longer-form summary format for my book club book this month, so keep an eye out for that. After that I’ll be back with my thoughts on the final Graceling book Winterkeep.

If you liked Bitterblue, try:

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta

Bloodleaf by Crystal Smith

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Mini Reviews

Fire by Kristin Cashore (Book 2)

# of Pages: 461

Time it took me to read: 5 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 66

Rating: 4 out of 5

As the only human “monster” in the Dells, Fire is different from anyone else she’s ever known. Well, besides her father, who was cruel and revelled in his power to use his looks and his mind to control people. Fire, on the other hand, simply wishes to be left alone. She can’t help that slipping into an unguarded mind comes easily as breathing, or that her flame-like hair sends animal monsters and many humans alike into a frenzy. 

But that wish seems less and less likely as her kingdom slips closer and closer to all-out civil war. Though she knows only by word of mouth that the king is a better ruler than his father was, Fire knows he must be the lesser of three evils, as the lords to the north and south are driven to war only by greed.

After saving the lives of a group of the king’s soldiers, King Nash and his younger brother, Brigan, must put aside their distrust of the daughter of the man who controlled their father his whole life and ask for her help. For if Fire’s power is good for one thing, her control over minds makes her a wonderful spy. But if she agrees to become an agent of the king, and of his brother, is she any better than the powerful and cruel father who’s legacy she’s been fleeing from? Is helping save the kingdom worth truly embracing what she has always been: a monster.

Review:

This second book in the Graceling world takes you away from the seven kingdoms and their Gracelings to a different kingdom, the Dells, which is completely cut off by mountains on all sides. This land has no Gracelings, only monsters, creatures of unbelievable beauty, who have the ability to slip inside an unprotected mind and take control. For animal monsters, like leopards and raptors and wolves, this means luring in humans and other creatures as prey. For Fire, the only human monster left in the Dells, her vibrant flame-like hair and stunning beauty means she must protect herself from those who wish to possess her, as well as those who would rather kill her because of their mistrust of monsters – a mistrust that is earned, for her father exploited his power over minds in every way he could.

As much as I like Fire, I can’t really put it on the same level as Graceling, which is why I only grant it a 4 out of 5. This novel is much more of a political intrigue, much less action than Graceling, and I think a good adventure book is much more up my alley.

But despite the fact that there is less action, Fire is a wonderful addition to the series. It definitely has that fantasy element, but it really is a character study for Fire, since she is constantly in a battle with herself, trying not to be the person everyone expects her to be – which is cruel, controlling, and dangerous. Those who can protect their minds are distrustful of her, and those who can’t protect their mind completely lose control at the sight of her – they either want to kill her, assault her, or take her prisoner for the power she possesses.

I feel as though she is a very realistic character, if you take away the whole “able to control minds” bit. She really just wants to be more than her father’s legacy, and in the beginning the way she does that is to completely hide herself away, avoid using her powers at pretty much any cost, except for self-defense.

But as she opens herself up to making more friends, and finding that if she gets to know people, they’ll get to know her and trust her in return. And as she opens herself up to forging new relationships with people, she finds that using her power to help people, to help her kingdom, doesn’t make her like her father, who only used his power for his own gain.

Due to the fact that this book has less action, I feel that it doesn’t quite have the snappy, engaging pace that Graceling does. However, for the type of book that it is, I think that it’s well balanced and evenly paced throughout. And it does have a really sweet love story, and even though it’s not explicitly stated Fire is the kind of character who expects to never have anyone that she can fully trust to love her for who she is, that’s sort of implied. So I think the fact that it took almost the whole book for the love story to come to fruition was well done and another point toward the character driven story that this is.

I don’t feel as though I had all that much to say about Fire, it’s great, if you like Graceling you’ll like Fire, there is a callback to one of the main characters in Graceling in Fire, though technically Fire is a prequel, you can read them in either order.

If you like Fire, try:

These Rebel Waves by Sara Raasch

And I Darken by Kiersten White

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Mini Reviews

Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Book 1)

# of Pages: 471

Time it took me to read: 2 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 67

Rating: 5 out of 5

In the seven kingdoms, if you meet someone with one eye one color and the other eye a different color, you’ve met someone Graced. No two people have exactly the same Grace. You may meet someone Graced with swimming, or sewing, or counting. You may meet two people Graced with fighting, but they won’t ever be exactly the same.

Katsa has always known her Grace is killing. Ever since she killed a man at eight years old, even though it was an accident, she has felt that her hands can deal death without even thinking. It has taken her every day since then to hone her skills as a fighter so that she will never kill anyone she doesn’t mean to ever again. Though her uncle, King Randa, uses her indiscriminately as his blade, she fights him in whatever small ways she can.

It isn’t until she meets Prince Po of Lienid that she finds that she is more than just her Grace. So when Po asks her to leave her life behind to help him find the man who had his grandfather kidnapped, Katsa sees her chance to escape her life of doing King Randa’s bidding.

But what they do find is that the man behind it has a Grace more dangerous than even hers, and that Katsa is vulnerable for the first time in her life. But when she has only herself to rely on, she may find out that her Grace is more than she ever thought it could be. It could be enough to save herself, and those she comes to love the most.

Review:

This is the first in a series of mini reviews that I’m going to start doing this year, so I want to take a brief moment to explain. Mini reviews are going to cover books that I’ve read before, and they’re pretty much all going to be five stars. These are books I’m re-reading for whatever purpose, usually to prep myself for a new book coming out. Normally I try to read a new book for ever re-read I do, so I don’t always review books I’ve already read, but I’ve got quite a few re-reads coming up, and I want to hold myself accountable for posting, so here we go.

This is somewhere between the third and the fifth time I’ve read Graceling over the last ten years or so, and it truly never gets old. It’s one of those rare, timeless YA classics from the early 2000s. I imagine if I were to go back and re-read everything I read in 2009 (if I had kept track of my reading at that time), I wouldn’t get nearly as much satisfaction from most of those books, so Graceling is truly special.

Katsa is a strong, angry female protagonist, from a time where I don’t recall reading a lot of books where the female protagonists were particularly angry as a character trait. She holds true to her morals of never wanting to marry, even after finding a man she’s willing to open her heart to, which is something I don’t think I’ve seen even to this day, which is awesome. You can still be committed to someone you love without marrying, and without being with them every day for the rest of her life. Katsa has her own goals and from the first page asserts that she is her own woman, and that never changes even as she goes through a lovely cycle of character development, and a lot of it for a “standalone” novel.

This book is extremely well paced, engaging from the very beginning, and though the “magic” of this world, the Graces, is completely unique and fascinating, I never feel as though I’m getting info-dumped. Something that I feel is unique about this story as well is the amount of time Cashore spends on certain aspects of it. For example, there is a lot of travel in this story, across the seven kingdoms, and Cashore spends a lot of time documenting it. And there is nearly one hundred pages after the “climax” detailing the aftermath, which is typically relegated to an epilogue in most stories. And the climax itself is only one chapter, ten pages maximum. While in other stories I may feel that the buildup wasn’t worth the payoff, I wouldn’t say that was true at all. Because despite the face-paced, engaging plot, this story really is about character development, and I think that shows in the short climax and long aftermath.

I think the only complaint I can really register is that when Katsa has sex for the first time, though her partner is supportive, it is described as a sharp pain that “women always feel”. Which isn’t something that I think should be spread to young girls. Sex doesn’t have to be painful, in fact it shouldn’t be if you’re properly prepared for it. But this book was written in 2008, and the fact that there is a pretty obvious scene in which Katsa and her partner have sex is pretty unique to YA in that era.

I’m moving through the whole Graceling series as I make my way toward Kristin Cashore’s new book, Winterkeep. I think it goes without saying that I strongly recommend Graceling as a wonderfully well written novel that has held up exceptionally well since its release in 2008.

If you liked Graceling, try:

Furyborn by Claire Legrand

The Diabolic by SJ Kincaid

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

These Rebel Waves by Sara Raasch