Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
Bitterblue takes place eight years after the end of Kristin Cashore’s earlier novel, Graceling. At the end of that book, ten-year-old Princess Bitterblue became Queen of Monsea upon the death of her father, the vicious psychopath, King Leck. Bitterblue is still trying to help her country recover from the trauma of her father’s 35-year reign of terror. Leck held the kingdom in thrall by controlling people’s thoughts, changing their memories so they always believed he was a kind and caring ruler while he really terrorized the citizens. Because of her youth, Bitterblue has relied heavily on her advisors who promote what they call a forward-thinking agenda. They urge her to pardon everyone for any crimes committed during Leck’s reign and encourage everyone to simply forget that anything bad happened.
But Bitterblue begins to suspect that the constant stream of paperwork her advisors bring her is a trick to keep her too busy to think. Feeling increasingly isolated from her subjects, she rebels by sneaking out at night to explore her capital city. While wandering the city, she stumbles upon several story rooms--taverns where storytellers weave tales to entertain the customers, and she meets two thieves who, paradoxically, only steal that which has been stolen. With the help of old and new friends, she begins to realize that not all of her subjects are able to move on to the future and simply forget the past. For them there are simply too many unanswered questions. But as Bitterblue and her friends try to learn more about what happened in the dark days of Leck’s reign, it becomes clear that someone does not want them to learn the truth. And that someone is willing to go to great lengths to protect the secrets of the past, including arson and murder.
Bitterblue is a novel of more intrigue than action and does get off to a bit of a slow start. Fans of the companion novels, Graceling and Fire, will be pleased to see some favorite characters from those books appear in this story. But while Katsa and Po are important supporting characters, this book is ultimately about Queen Bitterblue and her efforts to help her kingdom heal. To do that she must find a way to balance the needs of some people for stories to help them understand their loss with the needs of others who want to forget because they can’t face the pain of the past.