One of the hazards of writing a book review blog is that if you’re not careful about what you review, giving books as presents becomes tricky. Your friends won’t be surprised by the books you give them for their birthday if they’ve already read your glowing review, and since probably 90% of the presents I give are books, this has made shopping somewhat challenging. So now when I read something that I know I want to give as a gift, I avoid writing a review even if I love the book. When I read Bitterblue a few months ago I knew immediately that it would be perfect for my friend Hannah’s birthday, so it’s only now that she’s opened the present that I will tell you how awesome Bitterblue is.

Kristin Cashore has written three young adult fantasy books set in the same world–Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue–and they’re all great. I wouldn’t quite call it a series, since they all center on different characters and jump around in time quite a bit. But there a lots of overlapping characters and plotlines, so it helps to read them in that order. I loved Graceling, thought Fire was perfectly niceand now think that Bitterblue might be the best of the bunch.  But telling you even the teeniest bit about the plot of Bitteblue will give away all sorts of things about the other books, so instead I am going to just list some of things I like about all of them.

  1. They all feature strong young women at the center, but the women are very distinct. One has incredible physical/athletic strength, while another is a bookworm whose power is more political. They show a nice range of different ways a girl could be in control of her life.
  2. The world they are set in is, in some ways, your standard YA fantasy fiction world: castles, princes, magic, sailing ships, etc. We’ve all read a ton of these, but this one feels original and complete, and the magic follows some very specific and interesting rules. Cashore even manages to make the political part of the story–which kingdoms are trying to overthrow which other kingdoms–compelling, and that is generally my least favorite part of any fantasy book.
  3. I found the story resolutions in each book unexpected. I did not know where any of these were going, right up until the end.
  4. Cashore addresses some pretty intense political topics, while still keeping these young adult books. I’m going to assume she was not actually trying to create a parallel of post-Qadaffi Libya, but it was still an interesting take on what that might be like for these characters in this world.
  5. On a similar note, all three of the books do feature some romantic storyline, but the relationships that the characters have are all very complex and layered. Especially in Bitterblue, I was impressed by how willing the story was to leave a lot of the romance storyline up in the air.
  6. All of the books are big and long and chewy. I read fast and it can be disappointing when a good book only lasts a day or two. With Bitterblue I stayed up until two in the morning, on multiple worknights, reading as fast as I could. Each of these kept me busy for a while.

So I guess I’m recommending that you make a 1000+ investment, since I think you really need to read the first two before you get to Bitterblue, but it’s worth it! I’m now just waiting for the next one.