I loved the previous two novels in this trilogy, Fire and Graceling, and Bitterblue was very different but just as good. The story picks up 10 years after the end of Graceling, with the young queen Bitterblue beginning to pick up the pieces of her shattered kingdom.
Even the premise, I think, is quite original – while coming-of-age novels involving young rulers are very common, the idea of seeing what happens after the villain is defeated, what happens to all the ordinary people trying to rebuild their lives, is very unusual. This novel is about what happens after the happy ending.
Bitterblue's despotic father, King Leck, used his mind-manipulating powers to confuse and control his subjects, forcing them to forget about the atrocities he did in the deluded name of progress. While those who served under him are desperate to forget those times, the young queen wants to dig up the past in order to provide reparations for those who suffered. Her castle is full of secrets, locked doors, and coded messages, and many people wish for them to remain hidden.
While there is a love interest involved, it's more of a side issue than the main point of the story, which is something Cashore does very well, and like in Fire we get the feeling that Bitterblue's own narrative is far from being all-important. There are tantalising glimpses into the lives of other kingdoms and other people, which add depth and realism to her fantasy universe. Instead of being simply narrative devices, other characters, however briefly mentioned, feel as though they have a full story to tell themselves, if they were only given the chance.
Another wonderful (and unusual) thing about this trilogy is the way the three books fit together. Aside from being written out of chronological order, each is set in a different kingdom, and features different main characters. Places and people from each novel have an impact on each of the other stories, and having read all three I feel as though each one adds significance to both of the others. Definitely worth a read, and I recommend getting your hands on the whole trilogy if you can.
The cover art is, again, very much underselling itself, but there are much nicer editions out there, like this one from Barnes and Noble.
Next up: Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant