Monday, May 14, 2012

May 1st marked two amazing book birthdays. Veronica Roth's follow-up Insurgent, and Kristin Cashore's Bitterblue, the long-awaited sequel to Graceling.

Reading these two books back-to-back illustrated how sequels can be very different but equally fantastic. I'll be reviewing Insurgent for YA Book Club later this month, but I can't help comparing and contrasting a little for my review of Bitterblue today.

Bitterblue is about a young queen struggling to rule after her sadistic father, King Leck. It can be read as a stand-alone novel, but it is both a sequel to Graceling and a companion book to Fire. I strongly recommend reading Graceling and Fire first, in that order, to fully appreciate Bitterblue. With that in mind, I'm using a format to keep the review as spoiler-free as possible. For me, the two strongest qualities of Bitterblue are the characters and pacing.

In Cashore's world, a graceling is someone with a special 'grace,' or talent, marked by eyes of two colors. Both her graceling characters and the non-graced are all complex and realistic, with both endearing qualities and weaknesses. As in many fantasies, the sheer number of characters could overwhelm the reader, but Cashore paints even her minor players so completely that they enhance the story rather than distract from it.  And then there's the villain. Her villain is one of the most atrocious, chilling characters I've ever read. And I've read more than my fair share of Stephen King. On that front, Bitterblue is not for the faint of heart.

I read Insurgent in less than 48 hours, in the midst of multiple family sicknesses. It's that kind of book, with a break-neck pace that I couldn't put down for long without running back to it. But I took a solid six days to read Bitterblue. I was equally invested in unravelling the mystery, but each time I sat down to read it, I wanted to be fully immersed. Sometimes I put it down for a few hours to let the events stew before moving on. I'm accustomed to reading faster-paced YA, and I would normally say that I prefer it. But Bitterblue is an example of a perfectly executed, slower, building pace, and of the two books, Bitterblue is still sticking with me more, days after finishing.

If you enjoy fantasy of any type, I highly recommend Bitterblue. 5 out of 5 stars.

Music for today: Bandages by Hot Hot Heat