Today, I would like to hand the blogging reins over to my sister, The Llama (This is not just her blogging name. She generally prefers us to call her Llama, due to her love for the majestic spitting creatures.). After reading this, I think that we will all agree that she should be writing more for us here on Rampant Reads. So without further ado, I give you “The Llama Reviews Bitterblue.”
I’d like to say that I first started Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (Dial, May 2012) with a little trepidation. Although I loved the epic cheese that was Graceling, I had significant trouble getting into Cashore’s prequel, Fire. So, it was with a slightly skeptically raised eyebrow that I picked up Bitterblue.
Fortunately, my worries are largely without merit. One of Graceling’s greatest assets was its pure readability. Despite clocking in at 576 pages, Bitterblue maintains the same page-turning quality as its predecessor. The story rarely lags and the multiple plots ensure there’s always something delicious in the hopper; making it an ideal book for a long weekend, plane ride, or camel trek. For this, the credit largely goes to Cashore’s excellent pacing and writing, as the plot itself occasionally wears thin.
The story is an extremely ambitious one that any writer would struggle with. Essentially, it’s about the rebuilding of Bitterblue’s psychologically and culturally crippled kingdom after the downfall of King Leck. The kingdom is divided into those who want to silence the crimes that took place during Leck’s reign, and those that want to bring the past to light. Conflict, backstabbings, hidden plots, and juicy intrigue results. In the midst of all this turmoil, Bitterblue grows into a Queen, a woman, and forms a relationship with a total toolbag. Po and Katsa also scamper around, accompanied by various Council members. A few memorable new characters are also introduced, like the fabulous librarian Death (Don’t let the stupid name throw you. He rocks).
If this sounds like a lot, that’s because it is.
But to give credit where it’s due, Cashore’s attempt at these highly challenging storylines largely pays off. There are, however, some issues that were (for me) pretty glaring. They don’t stop Bitterblue from being a fun read, but they do keep the book from reaching the next level. If you don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading here.
PS: I almost forgot to add that throughout the entire story I was desperate for a cast list and maps, only to finish the book and discover they’re tucked away in the back of the book. God only knows what the editors were thinking jamming them in there, but do yourself a favor and find them before starting Bitterblue.
YARG! YE BE APPROACHIN’ SPOILER ISLAND, MATEY!
1) Saf is a tool bag. Sapphire, or Saf, is Bitterblue’s love interest for the novel. He is also a self-righteous, narcissistic toolbag of the highest order. Which, I actually don’t have a problem with in and of itself.
Bitterblue is inexperienced, insecure, and emotionally damaged. Sadly, it makes sense she’d go for the toolbag. So even though you cringe for her while she’s making groveling apologies to the guy who stole her friggin’ crown and insults her after she saved his life, you also get it.
My problem is where he magically decides to act human again for five minutes, and they end up having sex. Which doesn’t sound so bad in and of itself either.
Except for the fact that they have sex right after she’s been completely and utterly traumatized by watching her advisor/father figure admit to horrific crimes and commit suicide while she desperately attempts to cling to him.
I get that you asked for consent. And made sure to ask if she was really, really sure. Which is sweet. I guess. But HOLY SHIT. That’s like asking a girl who has 6 Appletinis whether or not she’s sure, and then banging her anyway. Yeah, I guess it’s nice that you asked, but…..how is deflowering a person right after a horrible trauma not basically rape?! The fact Saf is obsessed with the fact Bitterblue normally has more power than he just makes it worse.
But apparently, it’s not rape to Cashore, because Bitterblue is magically OK with the whole thing later on. And toolbag conveniently leaves the Queendom, so the repercussions of banging a guy who’s a proven toolbag never materialize. I don’t need to add how disappointing it is this comes from the author who treated the sex lives of Po and Katsa so well.
2) Revelations and Psychology
Cashore comes very, very close to saying interesting things about the psychology of trauma, damage, and healing. Unfortunately, she never quite gets there. The story never really reaches the depths of psychological insight it flirts with, and things are left feeling a bit slap-dash at the end.
For example, the revelations that her advisors have been behind the murder of the truthseekers. It seems a huge jump for men who had to be forced to commit crimes…and are broken by their deeds…to move to voluntary murder without blinking. Cashore merely addresses the conundrum with a single throw away line; so instead of understanding their mental damage and clearly seeing what took them to this dark place, I was left as confused and surprised as Bitterblue herself. Very unsatisfying.
As an aside, I’m also not convinced that the level of Leck’s atrocities wouldn’t have been better conveyed with a lighter touch. The explicit detail used is cringe-worthy, but not necessarily called for or even the most effective means of conveying dread. It almost feels lazy.
Long story short: Bitterblue is a flawed but well crafted novel, and despite issues with tricky subject matter, I look forward to reading Cashore’s next work.