Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck's reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle--disguised and alone--to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.
Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck's reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn't yet identified, holds a key to her heart."
My Review: Bitterblue. Was. Amazing. At first, I wasn't liking it so much, because it wasn't as action-filled as Graceling or as poetic as Fire, but by the end of the book I loved it. The plot was very different from the first two books---but it also connected in little ways. Katsa, Po, and a lot of the cast from Graceling made lots of appearances in the book, and even Fire showed up at one point, which excited me.
The plot of the book was really what drove it. The characters were good characters too, but the plot was amazing. Basically, Bitterblue is now 18 (or 19, I forgot) and she's trying to be a good queen to Monsea after Leck's reign---but it's very difficult, because Monsea, and her castle and advisors, seem to be full of odd mysteries and strange shadowy agendas. The whole book was like a twisted, eerie murder mystery---Bitterblue trying to figure out EXACTLY what went on during Leck's reign and why things were so hidden now and why such strange, weird things were happening in the city and her castle. It was all really odd and eerie and quirky. You could never figure out what was going to happen next---and when you DID find out, in the end, what Leck's reign was all about and what truly happened during the 35 years he ruled...well, my jaw dropped. And I had nightmares. This is the second book in my life to ever give me nightmares, so trust me: it's disturbing. My stomach felt queasy at some times, hearing about Leck's strange thoughts and crimes. (For example: "Little girls are even more perfect when they bleed." I wanted to puke when I read THAT.)
Aside from the mystery---which was amazing, because it finally tied together all these strange loose ends left over from Graceling and Fire (such as the question we all had at the end of Fire: Would the Dellians ever meet with the seven Gracelingian kingdoms?)---the characters were great. Bitterblue was clever and quick and curious, but also emotional and somewhat haughty and sometimes selfish...which was realistic. She was raised a queen. Saf was amazing. He was harsh and not at all Prince Charming and funny and strange. His relationship with Bitterblue was funny and sweet but kind of depressing and raw. I'm glad Cashore ended their relationship the way she did; it was realistic (and a slap in the face for ever silly book that ALWAYS ends with a fairy tale romance). Sad, but realistic.
Suffice to say, Bitterblue stunned me. The world Cashore has built in her Graceling Realm books is so complex and realistic and beautiful. She ties together little things to form a greater, more complex story and that's cool. It reminds me of how J.K. Rowling wove Harry Potter together. I'm not sure if Cashore will write any more books in the series. If she doesn't, that's okay, because these 3 are amazing on their own. But if she writes more, I'll be really happy!
Cover: GORGEOUS. I loved it the minute I saw it. All the colors of blue and purple are amazing, and I love the image of the keys. It's the prettiest Graceling Realm cover!
Overall Grade: A+