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

Reviews

Lightbringer by Claire Legrand (The Empirium Trilogy Book 3)

# of Pages: 565

Time it took me to read: 4 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 81

Rating: 5 out of 5

This is the final book in the series, so I don’t feel the need to post a summary, but I just wanted to do a brief review. This review will, however, contain some spoilers. Most of it will be spoiler-free, but I’ve got some opinions and I would really like to share them. I’ll be sure and mark the section with spoilers in big print.

Review

If you’ve read the previous two books in this trilogy, you expect an epic conclusion, and Legrand does not disappoint. This is a very large cast story, especially since it transcends two different timelines, and in this final installment I believe you get more perspectives than ever before. This bob-and-weave between two different timelines and multiple perspectives (though it does stay in third person throughout) might be confusing and overwhelming in most situations, but Legrand masterfully blends this story together to make it cohesive and comprehensible throughout.

However, this is the second sequel in a row where the author, in my opinion, breaks the unspoken rule where the writer must give little hints of the major plot points from the previous book within the first 50-100 pages as a little refresher. Fifty pages in I nearly put the book down and thought about doing a re-read, but that’s close to 1200 combined pages in the previous two books, so I decided to forge on through. I’ll definitely do a re-read of all three books someday though, so I can get the full picture, because I’m sure there are some things I missed due to waiting at least a year between each book.

I would also like to say that this is probably the heaviest of all three of the books. In all but perhaps the last one hundred pages, all four of our “heroes”, Rielle, Audric, Simon, and Eliana, are utterly tormented and trapped within their own hells. So if you’re looking for something lighthearted, Lightbringer might be one to save for later.

However, Legrand offers a masterclass in worldbuilding, engaging though sometimes slow-moving plot lines, and the most morally ambiguous cast of characters you’ll find anywhere (except for Audric, who is a cinnamon bun).

!!!START OF SPOILERS!!!!

Here are the two main problems I had with this book, besides being mildly depressed through nearly all of it:

  1. I’m not really sure that Rielle deserved the redemption that she got. This book showed her getting real twisted and bad, and for the first time I saw her as nearly as much of a villian as Corien and didn’t have much pity for her at all throughout. I think while it was important that she got to the point where she would have killed Audric had Eliana not stopped her, I think she should have had to work a little harder to earn Audric’s trust back. I think he forgave her for everything a little too easily. It’s okay to love someone through their mistakes, but I feel she should have had to work harder to earn back the little bit of peace she got from their relationship in the end.
  2. I feel like all of those characters in the future timeline that were developed through all three of these books got the short stick. I know the whole point was to defeat Corien in the past to prevent the timeline they live in, but Navi, Remy, Patrik and Hob, and even Jessamyn, all just wiped from existence. I would have appreciated a little epilogue of “1000 years later” or something that went over that these characters were still born, but not under the same circumstances…because just wiping them all out seemed cruel and lame.

!!!END SPOILERS!!!

Overall I think that this book was a well-written, generally satisfying ending to a wonderful series that I would certainly recommend to everyone who loves fantasy. And considering the last book that I read with time travel (see last week’s summary of Greythorne), I think this series did a much better job of making things with time travel messy and imperfect, just the way it should be.

If you’re a fan of the Empirium Trilogy, try:

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (for epic worldbuilding)

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (for morally ambiguous protagonists)

The Reader by Traci Chee (for not-your-traditional happy ending)

Summaries

Greythorne (Bloodleaf Book 2) by Crystal Smith

# of Pages: 356

Time it took me to read: 3 days of reading over 15 days (during NaNoWriMo)

Rating: 4 out of 5

Review: There is a lot that I liked about Greythorne. The characters are easy to root for, the pacing is pretty good, and I would say that it is decidedly unpredictable. However, I had to take a star away because though I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, I had a pretty large gripe, and it’s the same gripe that I had with the first installation: the world-building is half-baked and the plot is rather confusing.

Listen, the world that I see, that I understand, I’m into it. The brand of magic is far from generic, and I think that keeping the scale small (a tale of two kingdoms) is smart, but I don’t really understand most of the rules of the magic or the world that’s been built. I’m not fully sure that Smith knows all of her own rules, which is pretty important for a writer.

As an avid reader and aspiring writer of YA fantasy, I like to look back on a book once I’ve finished it and understand how I got to the ending. While there were little clues left behind, they were so strange and out of place when you first read them, I was just confused, rather than intrigued, which I think was the idea. However, I also know world-building is crazy hard, having tried it myself. I very much respect her effort and look forward to the third book in the series coming August 2021.

Summary (SPOILERS AHEAD):

Aurelia – young princess of Renalt, older sister of Conrad. She is a blood witch, meaning she is able to use magic that involves drawing her blood or using someone elses. Renalt persecutes witches, so they must live in hiding. If they’re captured, they’re killed. Aurelia is the only blood witch who doesn’t hide her powers.

Conrad – eight year old king of Renalt, coronated in the early part of this book because his mother died in the previous installment. Likes puzzle toys and is wise beyond his years

Zan (Valentin) – rightful king of the collapsed kingdom of Achleva, Aurelia’s love interest. “Died” near the end of the first book, Aurelia saved him using her own life force, so they are bound together. In the beginning of Greythorne, thought by Aurelia to be dead (really dead).

Kellen Greythorne – bodyguard of Aurelia, his life is bound to hers with a blood oath. If she is about to die, he dies in her place. His was one of three lives protecting Aurelia’s: her mother the queen (who dies in the first book), Simon (blood mage mentor), and Kellen’s. He is in love with Aurelia, she does not love him the same way.

Onal – herb woman of Renalt, close advisor to royal family. Secret grandmother of Aurelia, when her adopted grandmother the former queen could not conceive children. Grumpy, but brave and intelligent.

Rosetta – new character in this book, the feral magic witch of the Ebonwilde. Immortal, called the Warden because she is the keeper of the balance of the world and cannot die until she is replaced by another descendant of the Ilithiya.

Dominic Castillion – self-proclaimed king of Achleva, supposed murderer of Zan. When Achleva collapsed and Zan went missing, Castillion took advantage and spends this book working on completely taking control of the country.

Lorelai, Rafaella, Delphinia, and Jessamine – the “Canary Girls”, saloon girls of the Quiet Canary inn. Friends of Aurelia, they protect her and her brother from the authorities.

Act 1

Aurelia thinks Zan is dead, and wants to get on the luxury boat of Dominic Castillion to kill him in revenge for Zan. Conrad is due to be crowned, and Aurelia is trying to stay out of it, knowing she’s a danger to her brother’s rule as a known blood witch. The Tribunal (judicial authority of Renalt) is after her. Simon, from his hiding place, sends her a mysterious book that she only partially deciphers.

On the day of her brother’s coronation, a woman named Isobel Arceneaux, a magistrate for the Tribunal, arrives and tries to use her brother’s coronation as an excuse to try her and kill her on the spot. She drags Zan forward, proving he’s alive. In desperation to save her own life and Zan’s, Aurelia kills one of Isobel’s men and uses that blood to transpot her and Zan to safety at the Quiet Canary.

Zan has been working secretly for the past year that Aurelia thought he was dead to help refugees and work to take his country back. He was captured by Isobel coming into Renalt.

At the Quiet Canary, despite being mad at him for not telling her he wasn’t dead, Aurelia gets a little drunk on sombersweet wine and decides to seduce Zan.

However, doing so kills her. Well, it kills Simon, who was her second protector after her mother. Simon tells her that when she touches Zan, it kills her because his lifeforce recognizes hers as his own, so when he touches her it literally sucks her lifeforce out. Simon tells her that there is a prophecy: if Zan dies, the Malefica (evil entitity) will be released upon the world, but if she dies, the Malefica will be trapped forever. But she can’t die, because before she can die Kellen has to die (due to the bloodcloth ritual). Simon tells her to go to the feral witch of the Ebonwilde for help to break the bond between Kellen and herself. Simon dies.

Aurelia awakens and runs away without telling Zan what happened (dumb), then goes back to Greythorne (where her brother is ruling from), and grabs Kellen and Onal to find the witch of the Ebonwilde.

Act 2

Aurelia, Onal, and Kellen find the witch, her name is Rosetta and Onal is her sister. Onal is like 120 years old, and Rosetta is just as old, but looks sixteen because she is the Warden, meaning she is the protector of all things in the world (descendant of the Emperya (goddess) ). Rosetta recognizes the book Simon gave her and tells her it belonged to her older sister, the previous Warden.

Rosetta teaches Aurelia how to travel using the Gray, a realm that is inbetween times. The first time she goes, she is looking for the Ilithiya’s Bell, which is a powerful magical artifact Aurelia thinks is needed to break the bond between her and Kellen.

The merry band (Aurelia, Onal, Rosetta, and Kellen) travel to Achleva, because they think that’s where they’ll find the bell. Instead they find Zan, who has resumed his duties in trying to save his kingdom. Aurelia goes into the Grey again and gets the story of how Rosetta and Onal’s older sister, the previous Warden dies. What happened was that soldiers came and murdered Rosetta. Galantha (oldest sister), is unable to accept it and uses her magic and the Gray to try and save her sister. Through a complicated series of events, it works, but Mathuin Greythorne, her love, got sent away to an unknown place (or time), and Galantha “died” to save Rosetta and make her the Warden, though she trapped the wrong spirit in the wrong body (as I understand it), which makes Rosetta immortal.

Also we learn that Isobel Arceneaux is the sister of Aurelia’s father, the dead king, though she was a girl so she was left to die as an infant, so she doesn’t know her background. Aurelia learns that Onal is her grandmother.

Act 3

Zan, Kellen, and Rosetta are captured by the Tribunal, Onal and Aurelia narrowly escape. In order to get back to Renalt where Aurelia is convinced she’ll find the Bell she needs, she gives herself up as a hostage to Dominic Castillion, the pretend king of Achleva. She tricks him at his own game and leaves him on his ship to die as it burns. In this escape, Onal is wounded and Aurelia must use her blood to get them out of the situation alive. This causes Onal to die.

Aurelia makes it back to Renalt to find the Tribunal has completely taken over, her brother is safe and in hiding at the Quiet Canary with Aurelia’s friends and the local children.

Upon going back to Greythorne, Aurelia finds a member of the Tribunal, Lyall, has been doing experiments where he traps souls of deceased Tribunal members in the bodies of other deceased people. Basically they slaughtered the whole village, including the refugees, to make them creepy zombies with the souls of Tribunal people. Aurelia takes them all out and goes back to rescue Kellen, Rosetta, and Zan from Isobel, who is convinced that the Empyrea (really the Malefica) will take over her body if she can kill Zan on the red moon day.

Everyone, including Kellen’s brother, the lord of Greythorne, is dead from this ghoulish experiment. Rosetta admits that there isn’t any real way that the Bell can break the bond, she was lying because she was trying to find the bell because she just wants to be able to die.

Aurelia realizes that Kellen doesn’t need to die to break the bond, she just needs to take away from him something just as valuable, for Kellen that is his purpose as a guard. So she takes her dagger and cuts off his right hand, his sword hand. He is understandably pissed, totally ungrateful that she saved his life.

Aurelia confronts Isobel, who is going to kill Zan. During the chase, Aurelia finds the Bell and rings it.

This is where shit gets the WEIRDEST (sorry, I try to be pretty objective in these summaries). Aurelia figures out that all her problems can be solved with time travel, and in fact have already been solved with her time travel. She splits her souls (or something) and puts the perfect, unblemished one to sleep somewhere safe. Then she takes her body that is fated to die and does all of the time travel tasks required to make everything work out. She saves Zan’s life where she thought he died in the beginning (convenient), she gives her little brother all the tools he’ll need to set everything in place, including a vial of her blood which will be needed to reawaken her other self. He is the only one she tells the whole plan to, so that’s why he is so calm and not worried the whole book. She goes back so far to a long dead king of Renalt and forces him to make peace with Achleva by saying the next daughter of Renalt would marry a son of Achleva (which is what got them all into this situation in the first place).

And at the very end she goes back to where Isobel has been completely taken over by the Malefica and rings the Bell so that Isobel/Malefica is the immortal Warden of the world, taking the mantel from Rosetta.

To make sure the Malefica is trapped forever in the Grey, Aurelia must die. So she goes to where Zan is and kisses him to kill herself, but tells him that it isn’t forever, that he just needs to find her.

Epilogue

They bury Aurelia, everyone is upset except for Conrad, who knows better. After the funeral, he gives Zan Aurelia’s blood and the instructions. It takes them a year, but I guess they find her other body in the glass coffin.

The end

Final Thoughts: This isn’t the most elegant summary, I’m going to try and do these right after I finish reading the book, not like a week later, in the future. To anyone who’s read Greythorne, I hope this is helpful in preparing for Ebonwilde, the final installment in the Bloodleaf series, due August 2021.