While I was reading this, I had the sneaking suspicion that this is Kristin Cashore's best work yet. By the end of the book, all doubts were gone. Graceling
was a great read, Fire
was highly disappointing, but Bitterblue
impressed me more than any YA book I've read since Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia series. This is a startlingly mature and well-thought out story.
I would like to take this moment to express my love for Bitterblue. She's by no means a perfect character, and is wonderful for all her imperfections, in fact. I find it odd that I like her so much -- she isn't particularly clever or talented or brave. She has few of the qualities that cause me to instantly take to a character, but for that little nugget buried at the bottom of the chest: she's one fearsomely determined little queen.
I love her vulnerability and her acknowledgement of her ignorance. During the course of the book, I admired the way she held up despite her rapidly disintegrating control over her kingdom and the shrinking pool of people she could trust. I loved her determination to do right by her people and to right the many ghastly wrongs of her father, and to get to know the kingdom she inherited from a monster. I was particularly fond of how queenly she really was, despite being humble and rather self-effacing. Whenever she cried and felt weak and helpless, I wanted to give her a hug and tell her everything would be okay. I think it helps that she's described as a tiny person, and that I still remember her as a little thing in Graceling
There's a lot to admire in Bitterblue
-- the mysterious murders in the city, the mystery of her monstrous father's madness and the many puzzles left behind by his reign, the friendship that anchors Bitterblue to herself, and the one small but sweet romance that left both parties better people -- but Bitterblue herself is the absolute best part of this story and I refuse to hear otherwise.