After I finished Graceling, I really wanted to know more about Leks. In Fire, he showed up, even if it felt really weird and not really core to the story. Here… we actually start to get just how twisted he really was.
Bitterblue takes place roughly a decade after Graceling (and around 50 years after Fire), following the story of now ~20 year old Queen Bitterblue as she tries to untangle the absolute mess her father had made of the kingdom. Add into that a bit of a princess exploring her kingdom as a commoner trope, a bit of a romance subplot, and a sprinkling of
Bitterblue feels long. When the story really starts coming together towards the end (including the reintroduction of a few characters from Fire), it’s already winding down. It’s an interesting enough story, but feels like there is a lot of extra content, especially in the first parts of the story. Plus, we don’t really get any closure. Things are looking up by the end, but can Bitterblue really undo years (decades even) of her father’s rule?
Characterwise, I think I like Bitterblue more than Katsa. She still makes a load of bad decisions, but I actually like that she doesn’t have a superpowered Grace keeping her nigh invincible. Also, she’s 18 and has the added burden of ruling a kingdom and the mental fog that comes from years under Leks’ orders. She gets a bit mopey at times, but understandably. Although… since when is she afraid of heights?
Sapphire. Saf. I don’t care for him. He’s mostly just a jerk, and he’s supposed to be the love interest. Also, he has the strangest Grace ever. It feels like Cashore got towards the end of the story and had to give him something.
Po and Katsa are back. They’re still fighting and finding ways to keep themselves separated. They have a strange relationship.
Bitterblue’s advisor Death is a lot of fun. He has a perfect memory for anything he has read and has tasked himself with bringing back any of the books that Leks destroyed. It’s a neat storyline and he seems like a good person. I’m a bit annoyed by the name though. It was especially weird reading overlapped with the Discworld series.
Writingwise, what’s with the obsession with ciphers? It feels like Cashore learned a bit about basic substitution ciphers and their slightly more advanced cousins and felt like she absolutely had to include them. There are pages–chapters even–dedicated to the ciphers that Leks used. It’s just strange.
Overall, it’s a good enough followup to Graceling and Fire. The series as a whole is still oddly structured with the large jumps between timelines, despite the few overlapping characters. If there is another sequel, I’ll probably give it a chance. I really am curious where the story could go from here.