Welcome to a discussion of Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore. After reading my thoughts, please respond by adding additional comments, opinions, and feel free to heartily disagree with me. (If you haven’t read Bitterblue…spoiler alert, you might want to check back after you’ve read it.) Here goes…
Having read Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore, I was excited to read Bitterblue. Kristin Cashore calls Bitterblue a companion to Graceling and Fire. To me it feels more like a sequel, in that I can’t imagine reading Bitterblue without having read, at least, Graceling. I’ll get to the reason, later.
What I Loved
In Bitterblue, Cashore managed to create a villain so scary, so horrible he didn’t even need to be present in her story. In fact, he was long dead. The villain I’m talking about, of course, is Bitterblue’s father, King Leck.
King Leck’s grace (talent) was the ability to make people believe whatever he wanted them to believe. Unfortunately, King Leck was also a psychopath who would both commit, and make others commit violent, unspeakable acts.
In Bitterblue, though King Leck is dead, the people whose minds he controlled are alive and trying to live with the memory of the awful acts committed under his reign. As a way to move forward, Bitterblue’s advisors have convinced her to pardon all who committed horrible acts while under King Leck’s control. If it were only that simple…
In the story, Bitterblue knows her father did awful things, but she doesn’t know exactly what he did. While pardoning prior acts under King Leck’s rule seemed like a good idea, Bitterblue begins to realize that trying to pretend the past didn’t happen is not helping the people of her kingdom heal. Their stories need to be told.
As I read Bitterblue, I could almost feel King Leck’s presence hover like a heavy gray cloud over every page. Cashore is brilliant—she created the ultimate bad guy. If you believe God gives us free will, then King Leck is the anti-God. Imagine trying to fight someone who can totally mess with your mind. What was also brilliant…well, perhaps simply more logical…was the way King Leck was finally defeated using the ultimate weapon, a mother’s love for her child.
To sum up what I loved about Bitterblue:
- King Leck: Who I believe is one of the scariest villains ever created.
- There were many unique and beautiful passages. That it was well written is no surprise. I would expect no less from Kristin Cashore.
- In fantasy and sci-fi it’s typical to have characters with special abilities, but for some reason, I’m not sure why, Cashore’s world, filled with characters possessing very specific talents (graces), feels fresh and unique. Maybe because it opens up the possibility of having a grace that is totally useless.
What I Didn’t Care For
Given my use of the word Brilliant, you would think I loved Bitterblue. I didn’t. Rather, I should say, I loved it AND I hated it. At times the story flew by, while at other times it felt like it was taking me forever to read. To put it simply, here’s why…
I believe Cashore tried to tackle too many social issues. She brought in so many minor characters I couldn’t keep them straight. It felt like she included them just so she could make a statement about a cause she felt strongly about. The main cause that drove her story, helping people heal by talking about abuse, rather than pretending it didn’t happen, was enough. Yet, then she had to throw in gay rights and women’s rights. For me, whenever she introduced these secondary issues, it completely stopped the story. I would shake my head and wonder why that chapter or line of dialogue was there. (Don’t get me wrong, I agree with her take on these issues, but I think they would have been better served in their own story.)
Another reason I didn’t absolutely love Bitterblue was that I found Queen Bitterblue slightly annoying. The reason, I believe, is that most of the characters treat her like a child. Also, I didn’t care for Bitterblue’s love interest. He wasn’t nice, and in fact, was rather mean, at times. It bothered me she’d fall for a man with so few redeeming qualities.
The final reason I didn’t absolutely love Bitterblue is purely personal. A “not my cup of tea” issue, rather than a comment about the writing. When Cashore finally reveals what King Leck did to his subjects, we learn he’s not just evil (as in the killing, torturing and greedy type of evil), as I had assumed, he’s downright perverted. Personally, I read to escape and I was more than ready to escape Bitterblue’s world.
The reason I wouldn’t read Bitterblue without having read Graceling and Fire, is that many of the minor characters came from these earlier books (including Leck). Yet, even having read these two books, I had a tough time keeping the minor characters straight.
Would I recommend Bitterblue? YES, absolutely. Some of the most memorable stories are the ones you both love and hate. In that regard, Cashore succeeded! (And I will never forget King Leck!)
So, here’s where I open it up to you (and when I say you, I mean all of you…even Kristin Cashore, if she cares to respond.) Do you agree, disagree, or perhaps have something entirely different to add to the discussion? I look forward to hearing from you!