Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Bitterblue is the third book in the Graceling Realm and focuses on the eponymous heroine who had to rule a kingdom that was crippled by her sadistic father. I read this book last year and I want to talk more about it because it has made a lasting impact on how I perceived the fantasy genre.
Where to start…this is a book that deals with the heavy ramifications of mind rape and the resulting extended manipulation that continuously traumatizes the victims. Although this is a fantasy book about wild creatures, a kingdom, queen, and politics, it is much more than an fairy tale. The people handle serious issues and suffer from mental instability after the culprit of these disorders is long dead. The people’s state of minds and lives are the inner conflicts of the story. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what made me click with the characters. I connected with the starkness, pain, mind-boggling mystery, and torture centralized in each character. At the root of the whole book are the unanswered questions that can be uncovered in the people’s minds and past. The answers are steeped in the suffering people themselves, the ones remember and know it all but are trying to forget and frantically bury.
Bitterblue has gaps in her memory but her advisers, soldiers, clerks, castle people all on the other hand, seem to retain the most grisly of theirs. Everyone is filled with secrets and unwilling to tell because they’re afraid to bring up the pain of the past. The chaos all stems from Leck and ends with Leck. The author did not have to fill the pages with gore or gritty details in order to convey to readers the extent of damage Leck wreaked. Over the course of 35 years, one man has single-handedly managed to destroy the fragile psychological minds of his citizens. Even the young ones like Hava, Teddy, and Bitterblue especially do not escape. Bitterblue must sever his legacy but at the least same time reveal the truths during his reign in order to lay to rest the ghosts of her childhood and people.
The book differs from the typical fantasy novel because it’s not an action-driven plot filled with assassinations, political intrigue, and war. Although all these fantastical elements are present in the novel, the foremost priority is the mystery and exploring the full extent of Leck’s reach and damage which still causes people to do crazy things years after his death. There are so many questions that Bitterblue brings up, countless others that people are unwillingly to ask. What is the purpose of Leck’s experiments. Where are his experiments? Who are his experiments? Why? How? The whole concept of his torture and fascination with animals and people alike is sickening, yet engrossing as I dive further into the book and learn more about it. The truth, when it is finally unveiled, is simply horrifying and just traumatizing; however, it galvanizes the road to healing. Ever since she became queen, Bitterblue discover most of her people only eager to forget and burn the history. Not everything is well in the end and in life, nothing is. But there’s so much hope and happiness that might appear in the future. I want a fourth book! A few things are still unsolved and I wish I could see Bitterblue fully mature into a greater confident woman.
The fantasy genre is such a hard category to break into specifically because it’s already brimming with so much talent and also landmines. The obvious danger of writing fantasy is that the world-building needs to be built on a solid foundation that can support the story. A half-baked world makes for a half-assed story so I felt splendid returning to Cashore’s rich, vibrant kingdoms. There’s also bonus pictures in the back of the book that illustrates the multiple bridges the king forced the architect to build during his reign. And, of course, we have a map imprinted to give us the idea of where Bitterblue’s kingdom is situated and its relations with the neighbors.
There’s something so daring and empowering about having a strong female character that does not need a lover by her side or feel any need to marry anytime soon. Women were not commodity and no one questioned Bitterblue’s authority due to her gender. Her age (16) was brought into discussion and since she’s so young, a lot of characters tried to protect her by keeping her in ignorance. A lot of turmoil she feels is her struggle to come to terms with the fact that her mother was tortured extensively along with her servants. She reads Leck’s diary to find out where all the dead people were buried. The end is really bittersweet but the whole plot was driven by Bitterblue’s actions so kudos to female ACTION and PoWeR!
I was somewhat disappointed to know that Bitterblue was not really a sequel for Graceling (the first book) because the main characters were no longer Katsa and Po although they do appear sporadically throughout this book. But then, I’ve come to realize that Kat doesn’t need a continuation and maybe it’s better off to leave it as it is instead of dabbling in her affairs and missions. The author knows when to quit or specifically, knows to not stretch out content thinly just to cover more pages. *cough cough* Mockingjay parts 1 and 2 movie?! Twilight SAGA*cough choke* Less can be better and that’s why I’m satisfied. The story may be open-ended and it’s been a couple years since Cashore’s last book and sure, I don’t mind a sequel but the Graceling Realm functions just fine.
This trilogy introduced me to an intriguing side of fantasy, one that wasn’t a rip-off of Harry Potter and it taught me that there was more to offer. The imagination was not exhausted and fantasy was not all the same with battles of steel and blood. I found out that I liked books with medieval touches, monarchy, and castles…a lot. Although Paolini’s The Inheritance Saga (Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, read them all except for that damn final book I got rotting away at home) was good, the countless battle scenes started blending together and the plot whittled farther from me. I became so enchanted that nowadays, I think about buying a ticket to go to Medieval Times LOL. Anyways, most of the books I read nowadays is fantasy and I happened to neglect my science fiction TBR pile because I just can’t seem to move away from fantasy!!
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