Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Yes, it’s true: I’m still alive. Apologies for my long silence. I had a baby girl in April (yay) and she has taken up a lot of my time.

Go figure!

cutie baby feet

Don’t worry, I still had time to read a few books. Twenty, to be exact. I will hit the highlights though, rather than writing about all of them. No sense discussing the ones I didn’t enjoy (why revisit mediocrity, right?).

Top of the list, and most recently finished, is Bitterblue. Cashore is a wonder, and while I didn’t love Bitterblue as much as Graceling or Fire, I really enjoyed it. So, just to be clear, Bitterblue is the sequel to Graceling (and companion to Fire; as Fire was a companion novel to Graceling). Naturally, this has me hoping that there will be a sequel to Fire, but who knows.

Bitterblue (Po’s niece) becomes queen of Monsea at the age of 10, and the book begins when she is 18. Trying to bring her kingdom out of the shadows of her terrible father Leck’s reign, she is now beginning to question the wisdom of her advisors; men who have helped her manage the kingdom since she became queen. Bitterblue decides to learn about her kingdom, as well as the people in it and what they truly need, by herself.

BitterblueCashore has, once again, created a truly inspiring heroine at the centre of this novel. I did find the book to be much darker than either Graceling or Fire, but that may be just because I find Leck so disconcertingly scary as a character. Seriously spooky. As with Katsa and Fire, Cashore did a beautiful job showing Bitterblue’s growth into a woman, but in Bitterblue’s case, into a queen also.

One thing I found frustrating (Warning! Spoiler follows!) was the unresolved romance interest for Bitterblue. Does she find herself a king? She seems to have a connection with Giddon, but what about Saf? Oh Cashore, you big meanie! I wanted to know who ends up making her a happy girl!!

I loved reading about the changes taking place in Monsea and the other kingdoms – the uprising in Estill, and the installation of a council rather than a king. I am hoping to hear more about this world in other books from Cashore! My copy of the book has beautiful illustrations of the bridges Leck built in Bitterblue City at the back, as well as maps of the castle and the kingdoms. I wonder, though, why a map of Bitterblue City wasn’t included, since Bitterblue asked for one in the book and received many from librarian Death (pronounced ‘Deeth’ – one of my favourite characters, incidentally)? I think it would have been a nice addition. I also think all the maps, and maybe the even the illustrations of the bridges, should appear at the front of the book! I went looking for a map of the kingdoms in my copy of Graceling before I thought to flip to the back of Bitterblue for maps! (Are you listening, Dial?)

The other extremely cool thing about this book is the focus on ciphers (codes). I love codes! So exciting that Bitterblue is cracking them throughout the book. All in all this was a fantastic read (even with the haunting undertone of Leck running throughout… I felt like his creepy ghost was standing two steps behind me the entire time I read this book! eek.), and I now have a bigger girl-crush on Kristin Cashore. Amazing writer! I read the acknowledgements at the back and was impressed that she mentioned the politics of Po’s disability and how it didn’t occur to her when she was writing Graceling that “making Po’s Grace grow so big that it compensated for his blindness ad the end of Graceling…. It didn’t occur to me, until it was too late, that I had disabled Po, then given him a magical cure for his disability — thus implying that he couldn’t be a whole person and also be disabled.” It didn’t occur to me, either, Cashore. Glad she pointed it out.

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Eon and Eona by Alison Goodman

I read these two books and really enjoyed them. There’s a bit more … strategy-type, intrigue-y political stuff in the plot than is strictly to my liking but I still enjoyed the books.

Eon has trained for several years to try out for a position of dragoneye’s apprentice with one of the twelve dragons of fortune. Only boys are allowed to try out, on their twelfth birthday (Secretly, Eon is sixteen, and a girl). Most have been training for several years. Eon is an underdog, since he has a lame leg. During tryouts, another is chosen to be the dragoneye’s apprentice, but a second dragon appears at the tryouts; the mirror dragon, who hasn’t been seen in 500 years. This one chooses Eon, who must now navigate the royal court and those who would use his power as their own. Since the mirror dragon hasn’t been around for 500 years, Eon isn’t just the dragoneye apprentice: he is the dragoneye.

I liked Goodman‘s weaving of Chinese astrology into the fantasy world she creates. It’s interesting and feels very multi-layered, and I wanted to learn more about it. I also liked Eon. Sometimes the whole underdog, oppressed woman theme can be poorly done and that is exhausting, but Goodman did a better-than-average job. It wasn’t annoying, and I sympathized with Eon.

The sequel, Eona, was also good but quite a different kettle of fish. There was still all the political intrigue stuff, which played a bigger role in this book and which I found a bit more annoying (though I am sure that readers who enjoy this kind of thing wouldn’t find it so; it is well done and kept me reading at a furious pace).

Lord Ido, a power-hungry dragoneye, has killed all of the other dragoneyes and the current Emperor, as well as the Emperor’s youngest son. The  Emperor’s older son, rightful inheritor of the throne, Kygo, has fled and is believed to be alive. Eona and Ido are the only surviving dragoneyes, and Ion has been captured by Sethon – Kygo’s half brother, who has claimed the throne in Kygo’s absence.  But with all of the other dragoneyes dead, and their dragons mourning for them, Eona has no one to teach her how to control her power. And she must learn to control it, because Kygo will need all of her power to take back his throne.

For a book that addresses the common theme of power struggle (not my favourite theme), I was impressed. It was amazing to see how Eona changed as a character as she was forced to confront her power and those who wanted to use it for their own good. Her struggle to refrain from taking this power for her own gain rather than using it for the good of the empire, and all the people in it, felt authentic. I admit I’m not super-keen on love triangles so I also found this aspect of the book less attractive. So, I liked Eon better than Eona. The ending of Eona, though, was great — it fit the mandate (happy) and I believed it.

I commented in an earlier post about the difference between Cashore’s novels Graceling and Fire; the second book (not a sequel, exactly, but the second one written about the same world) dealt much more with sexuality. I found this in Eona too: it dealt much more with sexuality than Eon did. Obviously, this is kind-of natural since in Eon, she was posing as a man, and now she is her full-on woman self, and coming to terms with that. I don’t know that it was a very YA or teen book, though. Anyway, I thought it was interesting that I noticed this similarity in Graceling:Fire and Eon:Eona. Innteresting.