Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Bitterblue is Our Queen

Bitterblue (Graceling)
In a world where people are Graced with special abilities and a man controlled his kingdom in a thirty-five year reign of terror, how is an average eighteen year old girl supposed to run her kingdom? And how can she and the rest of the kingdom ever recover from the terror her father imposed on so many people? In Bitterblue by Kristen Cashore, we get to see how the main character, Bitterblue, is fairing eight years after that fateful day Katsa and Po saved her from her psychotic father in Graceling.

Bitterblue became queen at the age of ten, so she has spent her adolescence relying upon the help of her advisors to run the kingdom. Now that she is older, she feels like something is missing. She trusts the men who advise her, but at the same time she thinks they are keeping things from her to protect their young queen. Not one to sit idly by, she decides to take matters into her own hands and explore the city. Dressed in disguise as a young boy, Bitterblue hits the streets where she encounters a pair of young men, one of whom is Graced. The Graceling, Saf, is a bit cantankerous, but his friend Teddy is delightful and trusting. Through the unlikely pair, who don't know Bitterblue's true identity and refer to her as Sparks, Bitterblue learns more about her own kingdom in a few short meetings than she has in years in the castle. 

When Katsa and Po return from their mischief and mayhem in the world at large (actually overthrowing tyrannical kings, but they like to think of it as mischief), they find Bitterblue in a state of confusion. It is clear people have been lying to her, and there are things going on in her own city, let alone the entire kingdom, that she won't accept, but she doesn't know where to seek the truth. Bitterblue knows her father's 35 year reign will unlock the keys to everything that is happening in her kingdom, but no one wants to talk to her about the atrocities her father made them commit with his mind control. Slowly, Bitterblue uncovers the truths everyone has worked so hard to hide, but that doesn't necessarily mean she will want or need to know those truths to be the queen her kingdom needs.

We loved Graceling because of Katsa and Po and their amazing graces and incredible world. We loved Fire because of Fire herself and the fascinating and morbid lives of the monsters in the Dells. Now we love Bitterblue for an entirely different reason. While the world and the graces are still there, this is a very different kind of story. It is the story of a young girl who has the weight of responsibility crushing her and she doesn't know how to survive it. She knows her father was to blame for all the evils in her kingdom, but she can't handle the fact that atrocities are still being committed in his name even after his death. The beauty of Bitterblue is that she wants to be a good queen. She wants her people to be well fed and well educated, and most important, she wants them to heal. I love how caring and determined she is and I just wanted everything to work out for her... in particular, where Saf is concerned. This young girl has a lot of horrible circumstances to deal with, but she isn't going to lose herself in them. And that is what makes me love Bitterblue. She is a great female character for all our young girls to read about.

I have heard people scoff at the relationships Cashore portrays in her novels, saying they are too mature for YA audiences, but I totally disagree. She has men loving men, women loving women, and men and women having caring relationships without marriage. To be honest, to Cashore, the emotion of love transcends an official "marriage" and focuses on something deeper and more pure. I love how tactfully she does this and think those nay-sayers should pipe down and appreciate the strong, caring, multi-dimensional relationships Cashore has created. I appreciate this diversity! I also appreciate the understanding that students are surrounded by relationships beyond the typical "man/woman/marriage" and should see such reality reflected in the books they read.

But mostly I just love this series. This is certainly a more realistic and less fantastic story, although the fantasy is still there, around the edges. You may be surprised by the differences in this story vs. the first two books, but I suspect you will be pleasantly surprised. I also had the privilege of meeting Kristen Cashore last week at our local indie bookstore and was absolutely blown away by her! She was so honest and humble about her writing process, and meeting her made me love her stories even more than I had before! So if you haven't started this series yet, good god(desses), what are you waiting for! But be sure you have some time to devote to the series because once you start, you won't be able to stop!

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