Bitterblue - Kristin Cashore, Ian Schoenherr Oh, man. This book was heartbreaking in so many ways. I give it extra points for making me cry, something few books do nowadays.

How do you heal an entire country? How do you move on from trauma too vast to be measured? This is Queen Bitterblue's task, after inheriting the country of Monsea from her sadistic and cruel father, King Leck. Leck poisoned the minds of everyone around him, torturing others for pleasure and forcing people to commit unspeakable crimes on his behalf. Bitterblue doesn't know the extent of her father's atrocities. She tries to ask, but her advisers waver between obfuscation, incompetence, and something approaching madness, and Bitterblue doesn't know who to believe or what to think. So in order to get to know her country better, she sneaks out of her castle at night to explore the city in disguise.

But this is no typical adventure story. It's the story of a broken kingdom trying to heal itself, and sometimes failing. It's the story of some people who have been hurt so badly that they will never heal, and others not sure if they can. It's about the power of telling the truth, of telling our own stories, and about how the truth can hurt as well as it can heal. We must move forward, but we can never erase the past, no matter how painful it is.

I now understand why Fire's story had to be told before this one, and although I don't know if I can ever bring myself to re-read the part with Leck/Immiker taking his father through the mountain tunnels, I do want to read that book again now that I have more context.

As for how this book stacks up compared to the others, I don't know if anything can match the simple perfection of Graceling, but this book isn't meant to be simple. It's complicated and messy, because it has to be. I would rank it below Graceling but above Fire in awesomeness levels.

Special awesomeness shout-outs for the snarky librarian named Death and his cat. I always like books better when they have a cat.