By Kristen Cashore
Published by Dial
Published on May 1, 2012
Source:  ARC from Publisher

Summary taken from Goodreads:

Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle—disguised and alone—to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.

The Cover: I love this cover.  I love that it isn't the typical "pretty girl in a flowy dress".  I think this cover fits the series well and is absolutely lovely to look at.  I didn't realize how much detail is actually on the cover until I received the physical galley- there are so many hidden details.  I spent most of the story wondering where the keys came in and was so excited to find them actually in the story.

The Characters:  I love the characters in this world.  It has been a long time since we have read about them in Graceling and to me I thought they had changed a bit.  Katsa and Po still had an incredibly dramatic relationship, full of misunderstandings and fighting (and tons of PDA). I'm not sure why, but that kind of rubbed me the wrong way- it felt like they hadn't grown at all in eight years.  Bitterblue was a good character- we meet her as she is "waking up" in her role as queen and realizing she is just letting everyone else dictate her life.  I enjoyed her development as a character throughout the book.

The Story:  This is a long book.  It clocks in at 563 pages.  Like the other books in this series, it didn't "feel" long though. I have to say, all in all, I wasn't disappointed with this book.  There was a long twisting storyline, danger, excitement, and a bit of romance. It was interesting to see how much of this book was really about Leck and everything he did to the people in that town (and how horrifying it was).  I can't say I recommend this book for younger readers- it is incredibly violent and discusses strong issues like torture and rape.  The tone of this book is very serious- and while it is discusses the consequences of some very horrible actions, that doesn't mean that this book doesn't have a fantastic story- it really does.  It is everything I hoped Bitterblue would be.  I was left incredibly confused, though.  The end of this book was left wide (and I mean WIDE) open for another book, but I really thought this was to be the last in this series.  I read an interview that Kristen Cashore plans on returning to this world (but perhaps not these characters).  I hope she does because many of the storylines were not resolved.

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