I saw Celeste Ng speak at a conference recently and she was wonderful. Her book didn't sound like my cup of tea, and it wasn't, alas, but the writingI saw Celeste Ng speak at a conference recently and she was wonderful. Her book didn't sound like my cup of tea, and it wasn't, alas, but the writing is solid. ...more
I enjoyed this, but less than I've enjoyed any other E. Lockhart I've read. Cadence and the liars are distant, dreamy, a little chilly. No Ruby OliverI enjoyed this, but less than I've enjoyed any other E. Lockhart I've read. Cadence and the liars are distant, dreamy, a little chilly. No Ruby Olivers here. Still, an interesting read and the ending is a doozy....more
I enjoyed it, but would have enjoyed it much more if it had been a hundred and fifty pages shorter and if I'd been spared the wackadoo, poorly executeI enjoyed it, but would have enjoyed it much more if it had been a hundred and fifty pages shorter and if I'd been spared the wackadoo, poorly executed, mystery plot....more
I was a bit worried when I saw the Jonathan Franzen blurb on the cover, but all in all, I thought this was a damn good read: weird and overwrought, buI was a bit worried when I saw the Jonathan Franzen blurb on the cover, but all in all, I thought this was a damn good read: weird and overwrought, but also touching and funny and profound. Like Jaclyn Moriarty for grownups. ...more
I’m always on the lookout for books like Summers at Castle Auburn, The Blue Sword, and Crown Duel: romantic fantasies with vaguely medieval, British-iI’m always on the lookout for books like Summers at Castle Auburn, The Blue Sword, and Crown Duel: romantic fantasies with vaguely medieval, British-ish settings but anachronistically feminist heroines. I love them. This is my favorite kind of fantasy and one of my favorite kinds of book, period, when it comes to pure pleasure reading. There are many books of this ilk in YA today, and Graceling is great one. Fire is a good one. Bitterblue is a good enough one that could have been much better.
I don’t think I’m being unduly harsh when I describe Bitterblue as bloated and overly complex. I'd say this is very much a case of the writer getting in her own way and the editor, if there was one, not doing enough to stop her (hello Order of the Phoenix!). In a 550 page book, it’s hard not to notice when things seem to be a little bit out of the author's control, and when you know your author can do better, it’s hard not to be disappointed. Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy this book -- on the contrary! But I liked this book because this is a type of book I like. I also like chocolate, and will settle for mediocre chocolate when fancy chocolate is not available, if you know what I mean. If you don’t already like chocolate, Bitterblue probably isn't the book that's going to change your mind. It's too long, unfocused, self-referential. Sometimes it is boring.
On the positive side of things, the world Cashore has created remains interesting and well thought-out. The idea of gracelings is so genius, and I think pretty unique, and no less interesting from the pov of a non-graceling main character than it was from Katsa’s. I like Cashore’s way with prose, and I think she has a real knack for characterization (minus the main characters in THIS book, but I'll get to them in a minute). Her stories skew dark and disturbing, which I enjoy, and her romances are unconventional and faceted in a way that really works for me. I think she’s great for older teens (and for fantasy-loving adults who don’t have conservative marriage values, apparently) and I've recommended Graceling far and wide to YA readers at the library. So, I would definitely count myself a fan. But this book has problems, which I have been thinking about quite a lot over the last couple of weeks.
Bitterblue herself is the weakest link in this story. She is rash and short-sighted, and not overly bright. Like the reader, she seems to have absolutely no idea what’s going on in her city, or even her castle. She’s eighteen years old and has lived her entire life in one place, but she might just as well be a first-time visitor; it’s hard to believe that she doesn’t know where to find the kitchens or the king's bedroom for example, or that there’s a cobbler on the castle grounds. The first two or three times something like this was mentioned, I shrugged it off, but Bitterblue is relentlessly unfamiliar with her HOME, and it doesn’t really make sense considering all of the time that's gone by since the end of Graceling. Bitterblue has had plenty of time to look around, and she comes out looking pretty unintelligent as the book goes on and she continues to not know anything about anything.
Adding to her apparent simple-mindedness: for someone raised by a mind-controlling psychopath, Bitterblue is shockingly trusting of the people around her. The plot development in this story depends far too heavily on her complete lack of common sense. She’s forever swearing thirty people to secrecy on one matter, only to find out later that, whoops, she couldn’t trust one or two or any of the people she told. She involves people in situations when she doesn’t have to (view spoiler)[ (moving Leck’s journals for instance – I'm sure she could have handled that without six helpers) (hide spoiler)] so that they can later know too much and disappoint or betray her. She seems to have no screening mechanism in place for the hiring of new staff, and frankly, it surprised me that she would have held on to her father’s staff at all when she took the throne. I mean, Obama didn’t keep Bush’s cabinet and Bush wasn't cutting people into pieces and throwing their bodies into the royal moat.
Considering that she is a queen, Bitterblue's sneaking around town at night struck me as very unlikely and again, not smart. (view spoiler)[ Thank goodness Cashore made clear toward the end that pretty much all of the people in the castle knew she was leaving all along, because it was so unbelievable to me that they wouldn’t. However, once we find out that practically everyone (nanny, guards, advisors) knew, I couldn't imagine WHY they would have allowed Bitterblue to sneak out of her castle at night unattended, especially knowing that her life was in perpetual danger. (hide spoiler)] It’s bewildering and completely illogical. And it keeps happening! (view spoiler)[ Right up to the end she’s having sleepovers with Saf and no one seems to mind. Wacky! (hide spoiler)]
On to Saf: the first Cashore love interest I couldn't love. Partly because I could only picture this crusty quasi-hippie who works at my local Trader Joe’s and has the nastiest dreadlocks you’ve ever seen on a white guy. All I could think about was the soupy, patchouli stench of his hair. Also, Saf is mean. And again, (view spoiler)[ I was surprised that Bitterblue's barely competent staff wasn't doing anything to stop her from throwing around the royal goods. I think the sex in the previous two books was a-okay, but here it seemed a little gratuitous and also just flat out unwise for a future queen. (hide spoiler)]
The mystery elements of this story were also very off-putting for me. Cashore does not excel here. Bitterblue keeps a running list of things that make no sense (so readers can keep track, presumably), and few of those things are ever resolved; so many mini-plots lead to absolutely nowhere. Meanwhile, people in this book spend a lot of time engaging in truly bizarre behavior, to the point that I would have believed it if the big reveal had been that everyone had lead poisoning a la the ancient Romans. I'll admit that I don't really enjoy mysteries when they’re good, but oh, when they’re bad, they can be sooo bad. I really, really hated the ciphers. There is way, way too much explaining going on and none of it is interesting. Plus, if everyone is using more or less the same cipher system, I have to ask -- what IS the point?
A few last, minor things: Katsa and Po. Oh, I'm sure a lot of readers will be happy to see them, and it's nice to know that they're enjoying their own particular kind of happily ever after, but they're pretty obnoxious in this book, especially when they're together. Po's grace is simultaneously way too useless (he’s asleep!) and way too convenient (he’s awake!) to be believed, depending on what Cashore needs from him at any given point in the story.
Death (as in "teeth"). I realize that probably very few people in the world will care about this, but as much as I was entertained by Death, I really loathe librarian stereotypes of this kind... although I guess I should be grateful that he's not letting his hair down, taking off his glasses, and ripping his cardigan open while standing atop the card catalog in stiletto heels. But whatever, by now I think it should go without saying that just as we are not repressed sexpots, we are ALSO not all surly cat loving hermits with no social or hygiene skills. I think a fantasy author, if anyone, should possess the creativity to get past this done-to-death idea.
Anywho, all in all I enjoyed it just enough. But I wanted more.
(I mean more quality. Less book would have been good.)
This one really, really worked for me, and against ALL odds. I never would have picked this based on its syThank you, Shannon, for recommending this!
This one really, really worked for me, and against ALL odds. I never would have picked this based on its synopsis -- who hasn't had enough supernatural, forbidden romance by now? But aside from some looong, problematic information dumps, this is high quality YA fantasy. Excellent worldbuilding and characterization and, yes, a delicious cliffhanger.
Books that have sucked me in this way in recent years include The Hunger Games, Revolution, and Jellicoe Road. It's not a genre thing, it's an engaging story thing. THIS is an engaging story. I'm not even sorry that it's the beginning of a series. Here's hoping the next book delivers. ...more