Pages: 563 (hardcover)
Published: 2012 by Dial
Synopsis: Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck's reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle--disguised and alone--to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.Bitterblue is something of a sequel to both of Kristin Cashore's other Seven Kingdoms books, Graceling and Fire. While it's billed as a companion novel, I think that many readers would be a little confused about the back-story behind certain characters, such as Katsa and Po and Leck, who appeared in the earlier books if they hadn't read the other books first.
Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck's reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn't yet identified, holds a key to her heart.
Bitterblue is a queen who barely knows her own kingdom (queendom?). Her well-meaning but baffling advisers keep her busy with mounds of royal paperwork within the walls of her castle, while outside the ordinary people of the city of Monsea are still suffering from the aftermath of the reign of Bitterblue's now deceased father, the sadistic King Leck-- Graced with telling lies which were always believed. The haze which Leck's terrible Grace cast over Bitterblue and her friends, the horrors which he committed during his long reign, and the secrets behind the apparently pointless mad things he did, such as creating a fathomless maze around his personal chambers and commissioning bizarrely fantastical sculptures for the castle, still linger over the kingdom. When Queen Bitterblue, sick of being protected from the truths of how the rest of her city lives, sneaks out one night, she chances to meet a Graced Lienid sailor and his friend, a printer. Through the eyes of her new friends and with the help of Prince Po and the fearless Lady Katsa, Bitterblue begins not only to see her kingdom-- and herself-- as they truly are, but also to unravel the terrible secrets which Leck kept.
Bitterblue is like the other two Seven Kingdoms books, and at the same time, unique. It has a somewhat slower pace than the other books, particularly Graceling (still my favorite of the series). Bitterblue as a protagonist is sympathetic and strong-willed in her own way, but I did miss the supernaturally strong Katniss and Fire as main characters. Bitterblue may know how to use knives to defend herself against assassins, but well, Katniss could do more with her bare hands. I missed that very kick-ass element, though I also loved how Bitterblue came to realize her power and strength as a queen and also her great responsibility. (Because with great responsibility, comes great power. I had to go there.)
I really enjoyed so many of the characters from Graceling appearing in this third novel. Katsa and Po (of course) are brilliant, and really I could never get enough of Po. Without revealing any major spoilers, I'll also say that the plot and characters from Fire have a part in Bitterblue, as well. The love interest in Bitterblue, Saf aka Sapphire, is sad to say my least favorite of the Seven Kingdoms boys. He isn't un-likable, he just seems sub-par compared to Po and the prince from Fire (what was his name?) My other favorite "new" character is Death (pronounced to rhyme with "teeth"), Bitterblue's Royal Librarian, who is Graced with the ability to read super-quickly and remember perfectly everything he reads. I would pick this Grace over even being Graced with survival like Katsa. Kristin Cashore's beautiful and vibrant writing style really shines in Bitterblue and this book is a must-read for fans of Graceling and Fire, or fantasy in general.