Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore: The Knead to Know

By Kristin Cashore
Dial Books: New York, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-837-3473-9
Eight years have passed since evil King Leck of Monsea was assassinated, and his young daughter, Bitterblue, ascended the throne.   Now the Queen of Monsea at only eighteen, Bitterblue has the whole kingdom of Monsea to rule.  Though old friends are by her side, she is isolated by her position, restless, and buried under stacks of seemingly useless paperwork, and she sneaks out in disguise as a commoner one night.  She finds herself in a pub where true stories are told and befriends Teddy, a printer, and Saf, a Leinid-raised Graced Monsean.  Soon she is sneaking out most nights, both with the desire to seek out the truths of her kingdom, and to explore her growing feelings for the irascible Saf.  As she begins to uncover the difficult truths about the 35 years of Monsean life under King Leck, she begins to suspect her advisors are hiding things from her.  When Saf is framed for a crime for which only Bitterblue can provide an alibi, her anonymity ends, along with any feelings of safety when an assassination attempt is foiled.  Bitterblue struggles to regain the trust of her new friends, the only people who both know and will not cover up the truth.   A novel about healing, forgiveness, trust, and confidence, this is a fitting addition to Cashore’s previous two works.  Favorite old characters and a slow burning romance will please fans.  As a sequel of two very popular titles, it is a strongly recommended purchase for libraries serving patrons grades 7 and up. 
 You know how I know I really enjoyed reading this book?  I found myself sad that I couldn’t keep reading it when it reached its highly satisfactory, natural, great end.  Sure I trusted that Bitterblue and co. and their ability to confidently go about solving the problems they will face, etc.  BUT! But I wanted to stay and hang out with them…indefinitely.  Or at least a little longer! 
Cashore does a great job of bringing back old characters and letting us visit with them for a spell, but keeps them fresh with new dilemmas to work through.  Several of the new characters introduced in Bitterblue are also fantastic, namely Death, the crusty old crown librarian.  Like I’m actually ever going to pronounce his name correctly (Deeth), what with the joy it brings to consistently mispronounce it, especially in cases like this, on pg. 105: “Death the librarian walked in.” I mean, how can you NOT? I can only hope my students think the same when I approach with my shush finger out.  Best librarian name everrr! 
More importantly, it was great to see Bitterblue, always portrayed as smart and capable, but you know, a child, come into her own.  I love that she really pushes for the idea that forgiveness is important, but so is healing.  I could go on about real life examples in our world, but she does a bang up job of bravely seeking, and then listening to and acknowledging, the hard truths.  Watching her confidence grow in her capabilities (helped by a surprise blast from a Cashore past), was a pleasure.
Finally, let’s talk Saf.  I’m just going to say it, kids: not a huge fan.  I realize this is a divisive issue, but I’m drawing my line in the sand and pitching camp!  What a mega man-child.  Sure, he comes around, but the whole petulant, pouty, acting out about hurt feelings and power issues really turned me off, even if he did do some things to redeem himself a bit and whatever.  I did, however, start off open-minded and in the ooh, curious new pierced, rough around the edges, hottie potential love interest camp.  But then the reveal happened, and his really mature and lengthy pout reaction happened, and I was kind of done with Saf.  Frankly, I found myself surprised to be in Giddons corner.  Sure, he was kind of a chauvinist prick in Graceling.  But he’s not any more! Now, though, he is reliable, contrite, loyal, friendly, and he CRIES ABOUT HORSES.  Wake up Bitterblue!  DUHS.  I don’t know if there will be another book in which Saf can further redeem himself ala Giddon; frankly, I’ll read it if you write it, Kristin Cashore!
Bonus points for great end papers and maps on this one, fellow book fondlers.  
Snack to eat while reading: All that kneading of bread made me hungry.  Eat bread.  All kinds. Homemade, store bought, toasted, fresh out of the oven, slathered with things, delicious.  

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