“Bitterblue” by Kristin Cashore

While I was in NYC at Book Expo America, I attended an event at the New York Public Library.  Kristin Cashore read the prologue of her newest novel, “Bitterblue,” and I was immediately hooked.  I was able to get a signed copy while I was at BEA and read it on the bus ride home.

Oddly enough, the magical elves who live at Amazon have been recommending this book to me for the past month.  I generally ignore the recommendations from the magical Amazon elves, but this one was spot on.

Just one more little detail before I jump into my thoughts on the book–“Bitterblue” is actually the third book in a series that begins with “Graceling” and “Fire.”  Even though there are two books before it, you don’t have to have read either of them to know what’s going on in “Bitterblue.”  Each book is basically standalone, but they’re set in the same universe and the stories are interconnected.  I haven’t read the first two books, but I was immediately sucked into Bitterblue’s story and the prequels are now on my extensive TBR list.

Kristin Cashore uses a magic system where some people are born with a magical gift called a Grace.  Graces can range from gifts such as strength to completely useless attributes, like being able to open your mouth really really wide.  Bitterblue’s father had the Grace of being able to tell lies that everyone would believe.  He used his power for evil and became an oppressive tyrant king.  After his death, Bitterblue is left with the enormous task of healing her broken kingdom.  However, she soon realizes that her life so far has been rather sheltered and that she knows nothing of life outside the castle.  She begins sneaking out at night to learn more about her kingdom, only to find that her father’s influence hasn’t yet ended.

Those of you that have been following my blog for a while know that I’m a sucker for rule-based magic systems.  I like the fact that the Graces in “Bitterblue” aren’t get-out-of-jail-free cards, but rather are incredibly specific.  This makes the magical system feel like an organic part of the world rather than something mystical that nobody understands.

One of the neat little details that I loved in this book were the story houses, which were bars that had storytellers as a primary form of entertainment.  I want to go to one!

I also liked the way that Cashore touched on issues that teens are facing in their daily lives without being preachy or too obvious about it.  One of the secondary characters is gay and afraid to come out to his family, even though his friends accept him for who he is.  Similarly, when Bitterblue starts to fall in love, she’s given an herb that prevents pregnancy, which was something that I thought was ingenious.  One thing that bothers me in fantasy is that there are a lot of characters who can have all the sex they want and magically not get pregnant.  Real life doesn’t quite work that way, and I like it when authors take the time to address it.

I’m generally a bit skeptical of YA novels, even though it’s an unfair bias.  There are a lot of YA SF/F being published today, and I finally realized while at BEA that this is more of a change in marketing than of the types of books being written.  Many of my favorite SF/F authors wrote for young adult audiences, but their books weren’t marketed that way and always ended up in the SF/F section of the bookstore.  Over the next few months, I’m going to give the YA speculative fiction novels the attention they deserve, because books like this one are so amazing that they shouldn’t be overlooked.

Cashore’s writing is eloquent and lyrical.  Her story was complex and imaginative.  I would recommend this book a million times over to anyone who loves a good fantasy story.

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I read this book as part of the Once Upon a Time Challenge.

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Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, YA | Tags: , , , , , | 20 Comments

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20 thoughts on ““Bitterblue” by Kristin Cashore

  1. Pingback: Armchair BEA Day #5 – Keeping it Real and Children’s/YA Literature | Books Without Any Pictures

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Bitterblue « Absurdly Nerdly

  3. Hi Grace
    I’ve read Graceling and Fire and have Bitter Blue sat in the bag I brought it home in from the bookshop, just waiting to be read (and I’m really keen to get to it but I’m reading Good Omens at the moment). I thought the first two books by Kashore were great. On balance I think my favourite was Fire but I’m sure that popular opinion probably contradicts that and goes with Graceling. Anyway I’m looking forward to reading this one.
    I read quite a bit of YA. I must admit that some of it can be irritating particularly the whole love triangle thing which gets on my last goddamn nerve – why?? One person comes up with an idea in a book that sells well – that doesnt mean we want to read it over and over again! But, there is lots of good stuff out there – it really is a massive market and in actual fact I hadn’t even realised Cashore’s books were YA – I think they were in the adult section when I bought them. (Just realised reading that last comment – I haven’t even checked out the cover. Pah, what is the world coming to).
    BTW enjoyed all your BEA posts.
    Lynn 😀

    • I definitely need to read “Graceling” and “Fire” soon. They’ll be the next books that I buy. I’ve heard from a couple people now that “Fire” was the best one. 🙂

      I don’t read that much YA, but it’s something that I’d like to change. I need to stop thinking that YA = love triangle. There’s definitely a difference between books like “Bitterblue” and “Twilight,” even if they do fall into the same marketing category. I’ve got a few YA novels on my pile that I’m very excited about.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the BEA posts! It was such an incredible experience, and I’m glad that I decided to go. I learned more about the publishing world in the three days that I was at the conference than I have in the entire time that I’ve been blogging.

  4. i like having YA novels on hand for bedtime. i shall add this one to my list.

    • I’ve got a sizeable stack of YA novels to read over the next couple months. I’m looking forward to it. 🙂

  5. 1. I am so jealous you got to hear Kristin Cashore read! You got a signed copy! I am green with envy!
    2. Don’t dismiss YA! Some of the best fantasy books are marketed as YA, and I have noticed that a lot of fantasy books (Ender’s Game is a great example) are shelved in both the YA section AND the Fantasy/Sci-Fi section at bookstores… more evidence that the designation of YA is very subjective and often arbitrary.

    • It was really cool when she read too because it was with a panel of four authors, and they had a band complete with cello and accordion to play softly in the background. I hadn’t seen anything like it before, and I wish that type of event was more popular.

      I’m definitely learning to appreciate YA, even though I overlooked it far too much in the past. Between this book and “Seraphina” I’m ready to change my mind. 🙂

  6. Sounds like an interesting book and series. I like books where magic isn’t a “get out of jail free” card, but has rules and consequences etc. The useless graces you mention remind me of the “talents” in Piers Anthony’s Xanth books. Thanks for another well-written and thorough review.

    • Thanks! I need to read Piers Anthony one day. I like it when magical systems have to follow certain rules, otherwise it’s too easy for one or two characters to be completely overpowered to the point that they’re almost contrived. 🙂

  7. This sounds great and will be perfect for one of my students.

    I think the YA classification can be a little arbitrary at times. Ender’s Game is shelved in YA while the rest of the series is in the adult section. One YA book I love (though I’m not sure I would shelve it that way) is The Book Thief.

    • It’s such a good book, and one that I’d recommend 100%.

      Hmm… I wouldn’t have expected Ender’s Game to be YA, even though I could see why it would be classified that way. As you said, it seems like an incredibly arbitrary decision. Robin McKinley’s another of those; she was definitely in the YA section when I was a kid, but now I see her YA books in the adult section all the time. It makes me wonder what changed or whether they’re new editions or what.

      I’ll have to check out The Book Thief!

  8. “I finally realized while at BEA that this is more of a change in marketing than of the types of books being written.”

    This is what I think also. YA is as diverse as any other marketing niche. It would be silly to suggest all books currently published as YA are good, but it strikes me as equally silly when people dismiss them all as brainless. Anyway, Cashore sounds like an amazing writer and I can’t believe I’ve yet to read her!

    • Mhm. I generally just didn’t bother with the YA section at all because most of the YA novels that I’ve read had love triangles that irritated me and distracted from the main plot of the story. This one wasn’t like this, and Bitterblue’s love interest made sense and felt right. I’m beginning to think that I dismissed the genre unfairly, and I’m going to have to rectify that.

  9. I love magic based universes, this sounds really cool. Thanks for the review!

    • You’re welcome! This is definitely one of my favorite books that I’ve read this year.

  10. I still need to read Graceling! One of these days.

    • I haven’t read Graceling yet, but it’s definitely on my list! 😀

      One of the things I liked about this book was that I could jump in in the middle of the series and wasn’t lost at all.

  11. I thought Graceling was an amazing novel and am looking forward to Fire and this one as well. It sounds as good as the others, only the cover is sort of tacky in comparison. That’s why it didn’t even occur to me at first they could be linked.
    I love the idea of the story houses.
    I remember having liked the magical system a lot as well.

    • I can’t wait to see how Graceling and Fire tie in to this story. I didn’t care for the cover either until I read the book and saw how it tied in with the story, and then I thought it made a lot more sense.

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