Sunday, May 27, 2012

REVIEW: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

This was an incredibly refreshing, linear and fast-paced read for me after A Clash of Kings. Don't get me wrong - GRRM and his works are masterful in all the ways literature should be and I am a giant fan - and although Cashore can't compare in this regard, the simplicity of Bitterblue and the hunger it instills is something that A Song of Ice and Fire lacks (by it's very nature). The best part was getting to the next chapter and knowing I would be able to keep following the same story and not be left hanging.

It's been a few years since I read Graceling and Fire and while some of the particulars are lost from my memory, I do remember loving and devouring them and have been eagerly awaiting the release of Bitterblue

It definitely doesn't disappoint!

Eight years on from the events in Graceling, we follow the story of Bitterblue, the now orphaned daughter of King Leck, the main antagonist in Graceling (and do a lesser degree, in Fire). The story is a beautifully blended exploration of Bitterblue coming of age, trying to find the path to becoming a good Queen and healing her country from King Leck's reign and dealing with the mystery and horror of her and her father's past.

Firstly I think the subject matter was a great choice for this series. While it does not follow linearly on from the protagonists in Graceling, they do feature, and instead Cashore finds an incredibly interesting tale in the future of Bitterblue and in the past of Leck. The narrative is handled extremely well with some great use of foreshadowing and a lot of unanswered questions that left me wanting to read into the small hours.

Bitterblue is interesting as a protagonist and main point-of-view ... she is unremarkable (other than being the Queen) especially compared to those around her with a Grace (unique almost-superhuman powers), which I think allows us to focus more on her struggle to become a woman and to define her reality.

Her struggle to find the truth of the past among a host of people she doesn't know if she can trust is the most endearing part of the book. While nowhere near as devastating as something like Mockingjay, the sad truths and memories that come flooding in take their toll on Bitterblue and those affected by Leck.

I think Cashore must be some kind of equal rights agenda because I swear almost half the characters in this book are gay and/or are in gay relationships. While you'll get no argument from me (being gay myself) it was a little random ...

One element that is extremely lacking in Bitterblue however, is some of the characterisation and relationships. For a story of this depth and length I think there are too many new characters introduced and many of them are incredibly underdeveloped, make unprecedented and often pointless decisions and are sometimes used only as walking plot devices. Bitterblue is constantly using Po for his Grace as if he were a kitchen utensil and not a Prince of another kingdom, which all just becomes a little too convenient. There are characters like Helda and Raff who do nothing of import and have no distinct personality or purpose to speak of. Giddon was extremely random and his sudden involvement with Bitterblue even more so - and this was the most prominent example of how Bitterblue would engage with others in a way that was totally out of character or unjustified.

Even though it was the point of the story (and probably quite realistic) I felt the business of Leck and the fate of the advisers was still left unresolved. While we discover in vague detail what Leck actually did, I felt his motivations and purpose were still a little unclear - and the things that were revealed seemed a little dubious to me. Many things were left unanswered, but I got the feeling that they in fact didn't have an answer and were weak plot points in disguise.

The ending was a little anti-climactic and disappointing in the way that the great mystery that was the whole point of the book wasn't actually a mystery at all and rather than some great reveal that would shock and amaze, it was more along the lines of "... Oh ...". There was little resolution in terms of relationships, especially given the rushed introduction of new characters/elements right at the end - which I can only hope is the setup for a sequel.

The book did build stronger ties between the two realms of Graceling and Fire, although I did find it unrealistic that two places that are so geographically close could have a) two vastly different systems of 'magic' that are unique to their realms and b) that they hadn't all found each other sooner. It's like Gandalf decided to get on an eagle and see what was on the other side of Mordor and somehow stumbled into Narnia. Weird.

All that said, apart from the messy conclusion, Bitterblue was a very satisfying, addictive read and an excellent addition to the series.

I have a few other books on my Kindle that I am considering reading before I get to A Storm of WowThisIsLong Swords - including: The Lies of Locke Lamora, City of Dreams and Nightmare, I Am Number Four and His Majesty's Dragon.

1 comment:

  1. The book was an adventurous and compelling story yet I do not believe it concluded its self I the end. Also the romantic side story never seemed to have a conclusion. To summarize I believe it was a wonderful book with an ending that didn't come close to suiting it. THANK YOU.