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Graceling sequel overlong, but strong heroine shines.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Readers will learn a lot about code-breaking and different kinds of ciphers. They can also draw some parallels between what Queen Bitterblue faces after years of oppressive rule and atrocities and what real countries face after years of war and oppression.

Positive messages

A big theme is why it's important to know your history; even if it's difficult to face, it can help people move forward and heal. Bitterblue also thoroughly explores what it means to be a positive leader in tough times and what it means to trust and be trusted.

Positive role models

Bitterblue goes from being an 18-year-old queen who allows herself to be led by her advisors at every turn to a woman who embraces her own power to rule and heal her kingdom after her father's harsh rule. She sneaks out of the castle and lies to those close to her, but it's a necessary evil to find out what's really going on outside her castle walls. On the other hand, she can be so trusting and loyal toward those clearly exhibiting shady behavior that it ends up costing some people their lives.


Knives and swords are the weapons of choice. Bitterblue knifes to death a man who was trying to kidnap her and breaks her arm in another scuffle. Other key characters are stabbed and attacked, with some discussion of surgery to repair intestines. Two characters commit suicide (hanging and jumping off a bridge). Saf is always getting into fistfights. Talk reaches Bitterblue of fires set and killings of prisoners and others in her kingdom. Worse than that is what Bitterblue uncovers about her dead father's reign. He was clearly a psychopath who enjoyed torture, mutilation (ritual cutting, eyes removed, experiments conducted on even pregnant women and infants), and rape of numerous victims (piles of bones are found in the river). His mind control of his advisors, whom he makes his accomplices, drives them mad. Bitterblue's childhood memories of her father and his treatment of his mother slowly resurface, as do memories of her mother's fierce protection of her because she knew he especially liked to torture and kill young girls.


Bitterblue has sex once; it's barely described, but there's mention of her taking birth control afterward. There's also kissing among couples and at a raucous party and some discussion about those who know what they're doing in bed.


Pretty sparing; one use of "horses--t," a few of "ass," and Bitterblue says "balls" when she's exasperated.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

One character often drinks so much that he can't come in to work. Bitterblue and others drink in the storyteller bars, and there's a party with Bitterblue's friends where everyone is drinking a lot.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that, in this sequel to Graceling, Queen Bitterblue is dealing with the aftermath of her father's long reign. He was a psychopath who tortured, raped, and mutilated his subjects, and Bitterblue slowly uncovers details about these atrocities (just enough to shock; the rest is left to the imagination). That makes the book's other violence -- including near-kidnappings and stabbings, plus a couple of suicides due to madness -- seem quite minor in comparison. There are mentions of some same-sex couples, a heterosexual sex scene that's not really described, and one character who's often too drunk to come to work. As in Kristin Cashore's other books, Graceling and Fire, readers will find in Bitterblue a stand-out heroine who discovers her own strength through plenty of trials and suffering.

What's the story?

Queen Bitterblue of Monsea knows that her advisors are hiding things from her. She wants to truly know her kingdom and how it's coping after decades of her late father King Leck's tyrannical rule. So she dons a disguise and slips out at night, visiting bars where stories of her kingdom are told late into the night. She also meets a handsome thief named Saf and his friend, Teddy, who runs a printing press. The stories and her new friends have a powerful influence over her, persuading her to dig further into the horrible mysteries of Leck's rule. But it's not that easy. Leck destroyed hundreds of books -- mostly of real Monsean history -- and secret passages, locked doors, haunting art, and mazes all over the castle are guarding his secrets well. Plus people who call themselves \"truthseekers\" are being hunted down and killed just outside her castle walls. Who will do anything to keep King Leck's secrets, and why?

Is it any good?


Graceling was great, Fire was amazing; BITTERBLUE had a lot to live up to, and it does a pretty good job. Queen Bitterblue is another one of Kristin Cashore's fantastic heroines -- a great ruler despite unspeakable odds against her, and a knife always at the ready to defend herself (and she uses it well). But her love interest, Saf, is no Prince Po or Lord Brigan (the heroes of the earlier books). After he does too much stealing and brawling, Saf isn't even that sympathetic a character. It's almost better that the romantic story fizzles out too easily.

The pressure was on to make King Leck's big secrets truly haunting -- but since most readers will already know that Leck was a psychopath, they're not really a huge surprise. The best part of Bitterblue is the hunt for answers, through ciphers, linens, a spy's keys, a river of bones, and one very talented librarian; all of the pieces are exquisitely woven together. Also, a great twist makes a sequel a real possibility -- so bring on the next great heroine.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about fantasy heroines. What makes Bitterblue a great one? Who are your favorites?

  • Why was it important for the Monseans to tell stories and remember? Why is history important? How is literacy a part of that?

  • Which Grace would you like, and why?

Book details

Author:Kristin Cashore
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Princesses and fairies, Great girl role models
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Dial Books
Publication date:May 1, 2012
Number of pages:576
Publisher's recommended age(s):14 - 17

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Teen, 15 years old Written byGracedIslandAngel February 11, 2013

Great book but to much SEX!!!

Graceling and Fire were great books. my only problems with them was the sex, but in the first two books(Graceling and Fire) the sex parts are not very detailed. But in Bitterblue sex is throne out quite a lot and quite in detail. Another disappointing thing was the homosexual characters Raffin, Bann and many more. It was sad that she had to add that. I use to think Raffin and Bann had the best friendship ever, only to find out that is was love not friendship was very disappointing. I was as if Cashore had to have every character sleeping with some one no matter who that person was. Beyond that Bitterblue was great I loved all the ciphers in it.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Kid, 11 years old August 2, 2012

great plot

Great story in general, great characters. Requires reading of other books by Cashore to fully understand. Pretty weak subplot, love story very undeveloped. Perfect for a sequel.
What other families should know
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent Written byAntigonet August 7, 2012

Tough subject, lovely writing, great strong young female role model

The third in the Graceling universe, this book follows the story of Bitterblue, the a teenage queen. Unlike Cashire's other novels, the setting here is small and focused on the Queen. Bitterblue must learn to accept that she cannot change the horrible things her father did and imposed on others, despite being Queen. And she must learn about healing her people from her father's prolonged abuse. Unmarried sex is referenced. Homosexuality is discussed generally and in a positive manner (a character has not revealed his preference to his parents). Abuse and violence are discussed. The most difficult aspects occurred in the past, and this story is about learning to live despite this, but people do get hurt in the story's present.
What other families should know
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex