Science fiction and fantasy
by Kristin CashoreFire, the main character has to contend with the legacy of a tyrant.
Many of the characters from Graceling make brief appearances as the Council's secret business takes them to Monsea. For Bitterblue these are her true friends, people she feels she can trust. But they're only around for a short while in between causing political upheaval in other countries and intervening to prevent wars. Bitterblue can call on them for help, but she knows they have their own issues which can dwarf her problems in Monsea.
As queen, Bitterblue lacks freedom and isn't always told the truth, so she hopes to rectify this with her trips into the city. But to find her own truth she has to deceive others, a situation with ethical problems as well as practical ones. Keeping up the pretence that she's a kitchen maid is hard for someone with soft hands and no knowledge of the ingredients of bread, and it only gets more difficult when her new friends get into trouble. There's plenty of action, suspense, and mystery that ramps up as the story progresses.
The angst of not being able to trust those you're close to, and of not being able to tell the whole truth, are themes that dominate. This story is a little more thoughtful and less action-driven than Graceling. Although Bitterblue starts out with quite classic Cashore plotting, it ended up going in directions I wasn't expecting. This is because the novel favours psychological realism over the big, emotional set-piece finale. It left me feeling muddled about the characters, and this is often because they're rounded and complex rather than fitting into stereotypical boxes of heroes, victims, and villains.
Bitterblue's castle also deserves a mention. It's full of hidden corridors and rooms, and peculiar, striking artwork. Rather than an opulent place, it has pieces missing. One of the worst affected areas is the library with its missing books, a metaphor for the country's collective amnesia about what happened during the previous reign, and of attempts to erase that painful history.
Bitterblue rounds off the trilogy with less of the gasping and sighing of a conventional fantasy adventure, and more deep thought and introspection. Read it for an interesting perspective on truth, trust, and truth in lies.
23rd October 2018
If you like this, try:The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan
In book one of the Moorehawke trilogy a royal family is in conflict with itself. How can Wynter protect the people she cares about?
Review © Ros Jackson
Source: own copy