Bitterblue is the third Graceling Realm novel by Kristin Cashore.
Finished on: 9.7.2022
[Here are my reviews of the other Graceling Realm novels.]
Content Note: gaslighting, abuse, rape, torture
It’s been 8 years since the events in Graceling and that Bitterblue has become Queen of Monsea. But Monsea is still struggling with what Leck did to it and Bitterblue doesn’t have much idea of what is actually happening in her country. That is, until she decides one night to just slip outside the castle and head into town. The more she discovers, though, and the more questions she asks, the more secrets she seems to uncover.
When I first read Bitterblue, I was a bit disappointed by it. In the time since I had forgotten my initial disappointment and was able to approach Bitterblue with a fresh eye. And that fresh eye is much kinder. I liked the novel a lot on re-reading.
On my first read, I was very annoyed with Bitterblue, and very harsh in judging her. This time, I had a lot more sympathy for her. She is in an impossible situation, trying to govern a country that’s been collectively traumatized, and that while struggling with her own trauma. And she’s only 18 years old. And everybody around her is so wrapped up in their own thing, it is easy to see why she isn’t particularly comfortable disclosing everything that’s going on with her. Especially since she isn’t so sure who to trust.
The precarious nature of her situation and her resulting insecurities struck me much more deeply this time round. As did the horrible things that Leck did and left the country with. It is nice how Cashore lays out the various coping strategies that the people around Bitterblue deploy just to get through their days.
I did like Bitterblue’s bittersweet (no pun intended) relationship with Saf. That the novel doesn’t give us a HEA can be excused now that there is a sequel that returns to Bitterblue. And the many wonderful supporting characters, with Giddon being a particular favorite in this novel (not in Graceling). (I am not sure whether I’m hoping for things to happen between Bitterblue and Giddon, or whether I’m rooting for something else. I have no clue what Winterkeep is about other than it centers Bitterblue and I can’t wait to find out.) I also rejoiced at the continuing queer rep in these books.
That being said, and despite my much more positive reading of the novel this time, it remains true that it is probably the weakest of the first three Graceling Realm novels. It takes a little too long getting started, and the plotting relies maybe a tad too much on coincidences. But it is certainly not as bad as I first thought it was.