Tag Archives: Kristin Cashore

Bitterblue – Kristin Cashore

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The Queen of Monsea is eighteen years old and she has been trying to sort truth from lies since she was thrust onto the throne at age ten. Lies are the currency of her kingdom, a blighted, twisted, shifting land tortured into madness by her father, a man with a horrible gift for controlling people’s minds.

Bitterblue is the eponymous heroine of Kristin Cashore’s latest volume in the Graceling series. Bitterblue tells the story of her desperate attempts to sort truth from treachery, friend from foe, wisdom from the insanity that grips her kingdom. Closest to her daily and least explicable are her advisors, a small group of men who keep her plied with paperwork and never have a direct answer for any of her questions. Her true friends, gracelings who each have an odd and powerful talent, come and go, offering comfort and counsel, fighting for the rights of people in corrupt kingdoms, removing evil monarchs in the seven kingdoms from their thrones, and guarding Bitterblue from the deadly assaults that dog her every move.

She sneaks out of the castle at night, disguising herself to roam the city and discover what kind of people she rules. In her travels, she is nearly discovered, often endangered and falls in with some clandestine printers, a rakish Robin Hood, and a surreptitious literacy teacher. Some force is keeping the population in the kingdom illiterate and uneducated, although her advisors tell her the castle and kingdom is 90 percent literate. Someone else is killing the truthseekers, the people who search for what really happened during the murdered king’s reign of terror and collect evidence for remuneration and reparation.

Bitterblue’s inner circle, courts, guards and nearly everyone she deals with are not to be trusted and many are actively working to undermine her. The book is dizzy with uncertainty for as long as it takes Blue to begin sorting through the lies, half-truths and rewritten history. It is disorienting to read—the experience of the heroine is the reader’s as well. And the dawning clarity, even as it comes as a relief, reveals the perverse horrors of the real history of Monsea under Bitterblue’s vile father. Even the palace friend who helped Blue and her mother to escape the king before he could practice his sick atrocities on the child has layers of guilt and loathsome memories that devour him.

Blue deciphers a bewilderinging code her mother has embroidered into bed linens and carved into a keepsake chest. The disjointed information the messages impart can never be clarified–her mother was killed by her father as she sacrificed herself so that Blue could escape. But Blue’s persistence and her friends help her to dig for the truth, an unlikely friendship begun in deception evolves through betrayal into a lasting bond. There is not a boring passage in the book.

Bitterblue is a YA fantasy but I begin to think that is a convenience of marketing and shelving. A really good fantasy is suitable for adults and teens—it’s a story that engages and entertains and shouldn’t be pigeonholed. I like Cashore’s work and her worlds. Bitterblue is a strong story to match the others in the series. With any luck, Cashore will continue it.

Bitterblue (Graceling)   Kristin Cashore | Dial Books   2012

Graceling — Kristin Cashore

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Katsa can attack faster than the eye can track and kill a man with her bare hands. From early childhood, she has been a prodigy with every kind of weapon, able to outguess and out-fight any opponent. She is a Graceling, born with one blue eye and one green, and a skill that makes her dangerous and nearly invincible. And she is the ward of her uncle, a king who uses her to instill fear and groveling subservience in his subjects.

On the night that she and a small crew of clandestine Council members–a secret band of plotters and warriors throughout the seven kingdoms who try to right the abuses of power–rescue a kidnapped old man from a corrupt neighboring king, Katsa encounters another Graceling, a prince with a silver eye and a gold eye, who identifies her. The discovery will place her life and the rescue in danger but some impulse prevents her from killing and she leaves him unconscious as the Council members make their escape.

The kidnapping is the tip of a horrible mystery that unravels amid murder, power-grabs, abuse and perversion. Katsa refuses to carry out an order from her uncle to torture a man who will not hand over his daughter and a large dowry for a doomed arranged marriage. She stuns herself by walking out of the palace, reclaiming control of her life and her deadly Grace. But she is now a hunted enemy of King Randa, forced to leave behind her faithful serving woman and her best friend, the king’s son Raffin, who has no stomach for his father’s greed and oppression.

And Katsa has gained an unwelcome ally—Po, a prince of Lienid, grandson of the kidnapped old man and the Graceling who identified her on her mission to free the grandfather. Po’s Grace is sensing—he has an uncanny ability to know what someone is thinking about him and to feel when something or someone is approaching. Katsa considers Po’s gift to be a direct threat to her autonomy and resists her growing feelings for him.

Too much detail would spoil a fast-paced, surprising plot full of adventure, terror, difficult lessons about trust, struggles to gain control of lethal Graces and to survive, dawning awareness of the evil and perversion masked by a hideous Grace in one of the kingdoms. The major characters are all extraordinary for their times, respected and feared by the general populace, strong, plucky, beleaguered, and challenged at every turn by impossible tasks they must complete to defeat the darkness creeping over the kingdoms. Katsa sheds some of her defenses to uncover her real Grace and to save an appealing child princess who is tough and wise beyond her years. Po breaks through the walls around Katsa but cannot save himself from a wrenching sacrifice to protect the child. The journeys are epic and full of danger—the characters are very decently drawn and sympathetic. The story is an exceptionally dark fairytale with pain, heartbreak and determination replacing magic spells.

Graceling is labeled a YA book but it’s an engrossing, convincing and terrific read for anyone who loves a good story. Kristin Cashore has written a prequel of sorts—Fire, published second in a 3-book series, precedes the events in Graceling but it isn’t the story of the Graceling characters. Bitterblue, scheduled for May 2012 publication, is the sequel to Graceling, a more conventional sequel that tells the story of the small princess from the first book as she becomes the queen of her land. Both Fire and Graceling are award-winning bestsellers so my recommendation of Cashore’s work is just an echo of her wide market appeal and solid ability to tell an absorbing tale.

Graceling   Kristin Cashore | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt   2008