Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
(Age: 15+) Highly recommended. Bitterblue is now Queen of Monsea. Leck, her violent father, has left a terrible legacy which her advisors would like her to forget about. They want her to forgive all those who committed acts of atrocity under Leck's rule and move forward. Bitterblue escapes the castle and while walking the streets of her city disguised as a commoner, begins to realise that the only way to forge a new path is to understand the past.
Cashore is a clever author with a deft way with description and atmosphere. She keeps the reader's attention with her beautifully developed characters and setting and she also has the ability to maintain a gripping pace that kept me reading this book virtually in one sitting.
Bitterblue comes of age by the end of the book. Her excursions into the wider world where she meets Saf and sees how the common people live give her an insight into what she should do for the kingdom. Cashore doesn't compromise about the difficulties of being in love and the responsibilities that people in different roles must take on in life. She doesn't take the easy way out with the love story between Bitterblue and Saf. Instead she leaves the reader pondering on what it means to be a ruler and whether personal needs and wants can come before those of the kingdom.
What I have enjoyed so much about this fantasy series is that each book can be read separately although of course maximum enjoyment comes through first reading the other two books, Graceling and Fire. Bitterblue is equally as good if not better than the first two books and is a joy to read and think about.
The three books in this series are well worth having in libraries. They are so much more challenging than most of the fantasy that abounds at the moment and are sure to get discussions going about feminism, the role of women in society and the responsibility that being in love can bring. These books are ones that will remain on my shelves to be reread.