Kristin Cashore,
(Dial, 2012)

The last king of Monsea was graced with the ability to alter people's minds, to change their memories and perceptions, to make them do whatever he wanted -- and King Leck wanted a great many vile things. Over 35 years, he brought agonies of all kinds to everyone in his kingdom. After his murder, his 10-year-old daughter Bitterblue ascended the throne. Now it is eight years later and Bitterblue wants to assume the true power and purpose of a queen, rather than relying on the advisers who ran the kingdom for her as a child. But Bitterblue isn't sure what her kingdom needs from their queen. How can she take her true power when she knows she isn't being told about the present? When she cannot get clarity about all that really happened under the reign of her father, even in her own foggy memories? When her friends' Council begin altering the politics and balance of power in the Seven Kingdoms, making the future dangerous?

Bitterblue's story is different from other heroines. She undergoes not one great journey, but dozens of curving, creeping quests that tangle around all she needs to know. Bitterblue must explore her city, cope with her past, encounter first love's sparks, learn who she truly is and decide how to fit it all together so Monsea can finally heal. Through a labyrinth of secrets and lies, Bitterblue strives to find truth, history and good, but above all, she wants the ability to make things, everything, or just something, better.

The world of Bitterblue is a complicated one. It moves with a depth and a realness that gives this story force. Some may say "slow," but that's only looking at things from one angle. As a mystery Bitterblue might be disappointing, even with all its twists. As a fantasy novel, this work is short on action, villains and glitter. As a romance, it certainly falls by the wayside, particularly considering Kristin Cashore's previous works. For those who want an epic, graceful conclusion to the series, the end does come quickly and without really tidying things up. As a whole, living, breathing tale, Bitterblue's world makes sense. It pulls you in, it intrigues you, it comforts you, it moves you, and it includes a lot of things to both love and deplore.

Bitterblue is strong enough to lend something to those working through their own wounds and memories, while never bypassing or sugar-coating the pain or problems that come with that work. Bitterblue is a strong book to send out into the world, and its satisfaction waits for those who want to find it, who want something deep, and dark, and awful, and beautiful. Those who just want to read a well-written story, or to follow along on someone else's adventures might not find the kind of gratification they want. That does not mean it is not there.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Whitney Mallenby

21 July 2012

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