A lot or a little?
What 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.
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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.
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