Graceling spoilers ahead!
It has been nearly nine years since Katsa and Po watched King Leck of Monsea murder his wife, Ashen of Lienid, in the snow. Nine years since Leck and Ashen's daughter, Bitterblue, watched her father hunt down and murder her mother. Nine years since Katsa killed Leck with a dagger in the Lienid palace, at last bringing to an end the fog, lies and twisted horror of his Grace - and leaving a 10-year-old Bitterblue the Queen of Monsea.
Bitterblue is now eighteen, and still trying to pull her devastated kingdom out of the darkness and confusion of Leck's Graced reign of terror. With a policy of forward-thinkingness and blanket pardons issued for all crimes committed under Leck's rule, most of Leck's crimes remain shrouded in the darkness of the past and the fog of his Grace, and Bitterblue's advisors Thiel, Darby, and brothers Rood and Runnemood would prefer to keep it that way. It's easier to forget the horrors of the past, especially when all four served as Leck's unwilling pawns. Thiel especially, who loves Bitterblue fiercely, and who Bitterblue is quite sure helped her and her mother escape the palace nine years ago - and paid the price.
But Bitterblue disagrees with her advisors. She strongly believes that in order to truly be a good Queen, she has to know what came before her, no matter how terrible her father's atrocities. Bitterblue has to know what happened in the past. She wants to know who Leck was, and where he came from - where she comes from. She wants to know what happened to all the people who disappeared during his reign - thousands missing, taken by Leck and his men, presumed dead, their bodies never found. Village children, special Gracelings, castle servants, artists, and architects, many of them Leck's favorites - all vanished. What happened to them? What did Leck do?
With no answers forthcoming from her advisors, Bitterblue begins sneaking out into her city at night to visit the story rooms, places where the common people of Monsea can gather and remember, planning for the future but not forgetting the past. It is there that she meets sweet, friendly Teddy and his brash, clever Graceling friend, Saf. Saf, with sandy hair but Lienid rings and eyes two different shades of purple. Saf, who she sees scaling the castle walls two nights later, quite clearly stealing a gargoyle. A gargoyle commissioned by Leck that her advisors tell her never existed in the first place - according to the palace records, it was never finished.
With the help of Katsa and Po, Giddon, Raffin and Bann, all returned to Monsea from an uprising, and her cantankerous librarian, Death (rhymes with teeth) and his most unlikeable cat, Bitterblue sets out to unravel the complicated web of lies woven by Leck - and to discover why a Graceling Lienid would steal one of Leck's gargoyles. This is a dark, beautifully written, heartbreaking story of a girl growing up, coming into her Queendom, rebuilding a shattered kingdom and its people, and fighting to overcome the monstrosity of her father's legacy - all on her own terms. If you loved Graceling and Fire as much as I did or are a big fan of Melina Marchetta's Lumatere Chronicles, don't miss Bitterblue @the library!
(now reading The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, a thrill ride of a book about secret societies, ancient books, murder, vanished friends, and Prague!)