by Kristin Cashore
Recommended Ages: 14+
Bitterblue wants to move the kingdom forward, but is frustrated at every turn by haunting remnants of her father's time. People seeking the truth about what happened during Leck's reign are being murdered, or framed for crimes and falsely imprisoned. Strange crimes are being committed in Bitterblue City, right up to and even within the walls of the castle. People she needs to be able to trust keep betraying her. And her most trustworthy friends, a council devoted to overthrowing the worst of the kings, are too busy putting her kingdom at risk by using as a base for destabilizing the neighboring kingdom of Estill to be there when she needs them most. On top of everything else, the young queen has become attracted to a very dangerous type - a rebellious thief of things already stolen, whose greatest heist puts his neck into a noose from which she will be hard put to save him.
This third book in the Seven Kingdoms trilogy turns out to be equally the sequel of both the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award winner Graceling and its companion novel Fire. It explores the heartbreaking emotions of a young woman experiencing the loneliness of power, the difficulty of doing the right thing during complicated times, and the lingering pain of a society that has long been ruled by a monster. It touches on the long-term effects of surviving abuse, the burden of keeping terrible secrets, the fascination of cracking cyphers, and the awful feeling of being unequal to a great task. Bitterblue and her friends wrestle with illicit romantic feelings, special abilities that have to be kept hidden, and the qualms of discovering a whole world that has been hidden from them until now.
It is a grueling emotional journey, equal to the serious, exciting, passionate book Kristin Cashore has written around it. It is an unusual fantasy in that its action never leaves the city of Bitterblue and rarely even leaves the confines of the castle. It nevertheless inhabits a rich landscape of history, art, architecture, politics, and personalities. It has fascinating touches of cryptography and linguistics, strange kinds of magic, and potent atmospheres of mystery and dread. It is also worthy, please note, of an Adult Content Advisory, partly due to the disturbing glimpses of Leck's vile proclivities, partly because of graphic violence - including attempted rape and murder, assault, and suicide. There is also a moral outlook on issues like, for example, same-sex marriage that may prompt Christian parents and families to opt out. To-date, this trilogy is all Kristin Cashore has written. It will be interesting to see what else her imagination holds in store.