Midway through Kristin Cashore’s fantasy novel Bitterblue I couldn’t help myself. I called my friend’s twelve year old daughter to gush about how she has to put everything down and read this book right now.
“Oh, I already read it,” she said. “It’s great!”
I had intended to do some serious raving about how marvelous the novel is, how much I’m enjoying it, and how fabulous Bitterblue is as a queen, but my friend’s daughter was way ahead of me.
Still, I have to gush to someone. And I loved loved loved this book. I loved Kristin Cashore’s first novel Graceling with its powerful female protagonist Katsa. I enjoyed her second novel Fire whose mind-reading heroine Lady Fire lived a rich, conflicting (and poetic) inner life. And I finished Bitterblue, holding my breath all the way to the end, watching the young queen as she sifts through the chaos her father left in her attempts to heal her kingdom.
Bitterblue is surrounded by lies. From every direction, it seems, people weave a web of confusion and deception around her, doing their best to keep her in the dark. Are her strange advisers to be trusted? Are her guards really protecting her? Are her spies loyal? Is the information she receives from her clerks falsified? Bitterblue is just one little queen with a lot of good intentions. How can she overcome so much history of terror and fear when she doesn’t even know who’s on her side?
The rule in young adult novels says that the main character must solve her problems on her own, without adult help. Cashore stays true to this rule. The young Bitterblue, with her energy and strong sense of what is just and right fights her battle on her own terms and under her own power. But she is far from alone. Her friends might not solve her problems for her, but they are always there to give Bitterblue their love, their support, and their faith. Her cousin Po might not always hear her calls. Katsa might be away for most of the action. Giddon, Raffin and Bann might be bogged down by council affairs. But when they are there, they have an ear to listen and an arm open in a hug for Bitterblue. And sometimes, perhaps, that’s all a little queen needs in order to conquer ignorance and fear and reach the truth that lies behind.
I love that though the odds against Bitterblue are huge, Cashore does not leave the young queen hanging all on her own without any support circle. Bitterblue does not lie back and allow others to solve her problems, but that does not mean that no one is allowed to give her a kind word. At the SCBWI conference, Tony Diterlizzi said that all of us, in the end, meet our darkest moment alone. But how much stronger are we when even alone we know we have the love of our friends behind us.