The final part to the Graceling Realm Trilogy, or Seven Kingdoms Trilogy. We kick off six years on after the events of Graceling, this is a much slower read but is obviously building towards the many mysterious of the Kingdom.
It's hard not to feel sorry for Bitterblue, at a young age she has a lot dumped on her and with no family it's a struggle. Just like Katsa and Fire she is strong willed and determined to put her kingdom back together no matter the cost, which isn't easy when everything is built on lies upon lies. Still suffering from the effects of King Lecks reign, Bitterblue must uncover the truth of what really went on so she can make changes for the better. I found it so easy to share in her frustration in wanted to seek out the truth, but with advisor's not willing to relive what happened you get nowhere fast, you feel for them because they suffered and witnessed unspeakable things. I find myself wanting to shake her though and yell "screw their feelings you're their Princess!!" However with the discovery of Lecks journals the truth is uncomfortable to read.
The book is broken up in to sections which does help with the 576 page count, also this gives an idea or how fast things are moving and the progress their making, especially when things pick up. I love the fact these books are intertwined, with Leck being the character that appears in all three, it's seems like a fitting way to tailor these books. Graceling being his end, Fire his beginning and Bitterblue his middle. Not only finding out the truth about Leck but seeing where characters from Gracling are and their progression. Katsa and Po's relationship is just a volatile, Po is under a lot of strain, health and Grace wise, and seeing him come clean to Giddon was heartbreaking.
Of course like with the last books there was a love interest, but again it wasn't what the book revolved around, which is so refreshing. Bitterblue isn't just relying on the love interest for help in uncovering the truth but all her close friends. Saf is a constant reminder of the life she could never have, and when he does find out the truth about her she handles it well instead of crying in a corner, she's got bigger fish to fry.
It's so easy to forget that Bitterblue is so young but it's scenes where she cries alone that make you remember she's not as old and you think she is, she's a vulnerable child utterly lost and the only way to be comforted by her mother is from her embroidered sheets and wooden chest. The embroidered sheets are another reminder of how strong the woman are in these books. In a bid to keep hold of her own mind and protect her child from her fathers lies Ashen, Bitterblues mother, embroiders coded messages in the sheets in plain sight of everyone.
As much as this book is a slow burner with truths being dip fed to us, looking back a lot does happen in each section. Some things may not be as important as other things, and sometimes it can feel like you're getting nowhere as every advisor shuts off at the mention of Lecks name, but a lot does happen in under 7 months. I think the fact that you constantly don't know who to trust helps, sometimes you feel like maybe they are trying to protect her and as you continue to read your opinion changes on that person and you begin to wonder if maybe their still under Lecks influence or about to betray her.
One of my most favourite things about this book is that we know the Dell's are real and where they believe Lecks talk of brightly coloured animals, monster people, the bizarre art work he fills the castle with and the three bridges in the kingdom could be put down to the fact they think he's mad, we can see how much the Dell's has influenced him and how he's tried to recreate it in the frankly creepy sounding sculptures.
Of course my favourite bit has to be once they discover the tunnels under the mountains and Katsa brings some people back with her. With that first description of Fire my excitement levels rose. Fire and Bitterblue are too people who have to meet, although of course Bitterblue is reserved and guarded against her the two of them have so much in common, both trying to prove themselves and both being up the pieces left by their fathers. Unfortunately their time together is short lived, I wish they had discovered the tunnels sooner, but there is a touching moment between the two of them where Fire expresses her regret at not being able to stop Leck when she had the chance after seeing what Leck did to Monsea.
As with most books that include large kingdoms and extensive exploration of buildings and cities I wish that there were smaller maps within the book or pull out maps. No matter how well things are described when it comes to large castles, it helps to have a visual aid, especially when they start using the secret tunnels.
This book finished off the series well, the fact that Cashore made the decision to include characters from the three other books helps it come to a close, she isn't needless adding them because she can, people like Katsa and Po remained a big part of Bitterblues life and Fire and the Dells had an impact on Monsea they could never imagined. To me including Fire helped bring extra piece of mind to them all, yes they found the tunnel and the strangely written diaries actually seeing proof is another thing.