See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.
It’s been eight years since the death of the monstrous King Leck, but the kingdom of Monsea is slow to heal. Leck’s daughter Bitterblue, now Queen, struggles to help her people – stuck in an office signing paper all day, she feels useless and isolated from her people. One night she decides to visit her capital in disguise to find out what her people are really like, and meet two thieves, Saf and Teddy, who also run a printing shop. Drawn to these men and the need to know her kingdom, Bitterblue realises that her advisors are lying about the state of her people and are trying to forget what Leck did to them. Bitterblue, and her people, need to know the truth of what Leck did to them – before whoever is killing truth seekers kills her new friends.
Bitterblue is, above all else, a novel about healing from trauma, from the grand scale of an entire kingdom getting past the atrocities of a mad king, to the smaller scale of one young woman trying to face her abusive father. Whilst the moral of the novel seems to be that in order to heal you need to face what has happened, as suffering alone can cause a person to do horrible or destructive things, it does address the fact that some details are better left alone. This is a longer, quieter novel than the first two of this series, with far less action and more focus on politics and the need to find answers. Though it is easy to become slightly frustrated at the slow pace, and the fact that answers to many questions aren’t discovered until the every end, it felt right that Bitterblue should be a more gentle novel than its predecessors.
The character of Bitterblue is a sympathetic and relatable one, who is curious and above all else determined to do right by her people. She is only eighteen, but has to live with the responsibility of helping her kingdom heal whilst the stigma of being the daughter of the very madman who hurt so many people in the first place. She feels useless at her lack of knowledge, and frustrated at not being able to find any answers to all the problems that seem to be piling up on top of her. The other characters in this novel are also engaging, from the familiar faces of Po and Katsa, to the new, like Death the Graceling librarian or Thiel her most trusted but haunted advisor. The only somewhat dislikable character was Saf, the romantic interest, who when he discovers Bitterblue’s true identity, overreacts and treats her unfairly for a good portion of the novel – though he does eventually come to see his selfishness and apologises. The romance as a whole felt a little unnecessary, as though it was just added in to tick all the boxes, but it doesn’t take away too much focus from the main plot.
Although longer and slower pace than Kristin Cashore’s other books, Bitterblue is a sweet story about the healing process and the strength we take from other people in these times. It is also unafraid to show the trauma and consequences of people trying to suppress what has happened to them rather than face it, and makes some bold, almost shocking choices as to how certain people deal with their pain. It was a pleasing ending to the series that leaves room for more stories from this world.