Here we are! The third and final published book in the Graceling Realm series. If you’re new, here’s what I’ve been doing: to commemorate the upcoming release of Winterkeep, I decided to reread the entire series. I was originally planning on doing Top Ten list of the whole series, but found it was almost impossible to make a top ten for each book, let alone condense it even more. These are the links to my Graceling and Fire top ten posts.
The rules are pretty simple. I put a whole bunch of sticky notes in the book to mark some of the most memorable, beautiful scenes, and now that I’m done, I have to figure out which, out of all of them, are the best (at least in my humble opinion.) Bitterblue has always held a special place in my heart, and if I could list every scene in the book, I would. I had a grand total of twenty-eight scenes marked, and it was not easy to pair it down to ten, but I did, and here are the results.
Number Ten: “Frozen, Bitterblue stared into the bruised, bloody, and utterly dumbfounded face of Sapphire. “(Pg 245)
We have to start off with this memorable scene, now don’t we? After spending a good chunk of the book befriending these unlikely group of commoners, even falling in love with one of them, Bitterblue’s real identity is revealed in the most insane way possible. She enters one of her high court cases on a whim and discovers that Saf has been accused of murdering a mad engineer named Ivan, but the night in question, Saf was on a roof with Bitterblue. No one at court knows about her nightly excursions, and Saf was unwilling to describe his mysterious castle friend for fear of making her a target.
It’s a chaotic scene, with Po eventually bursting into the trial to claim he was Saf’s castle friend so that Bitterblue’s reputation would not be tarnished and Saf would not be convicted. Not only does it put a wrench in Saf’s and Bitterblue’s–well, Sparks’s–budding relationship, it also pushes to light some questionable actions of the High Court, killing truthseekers and framing others for the crime.
Number Nine: “I think I know what your Grace is.” (Pg 473)
It seems so obvious in the reread, what Saf’s Grace is. He tells her to dream of something nice, like babies, and Bitterblue does. After Thiel’s death, Bitterblue is with Saf, and the dream he wishes upon her is comforting, and in the morning, she makes the connection. It isn’t very important to the plot, a relatively useless Grace when one considers Graces like Katsa’s or Po’s or even Death’s, but it’s so wholesome, and despite Saf’s chaotic nature, it seems only right that he should have a Grace of giving dreams.
Number Eight: “Is an eggplant ever pretty?” (pg 149)
One of the biggest flaws Bitterblue has is lack of confidence, and it makes sense that she shouldn’t know how relationships should work, when, as a Queen, marriage and love are not the same for her as they would be for a commoner. And as a sixteen year old, it only makes sense that she should begin to question her own beauty and what it might be like to have a husband.
This particular scene comes on the heels of the one next on my list. The previous chapter, while spending time with Saf, Bitterblue realizes she’s come to really care for the Lienid-who-is-not-a-Lienid, and it goes beyond friendship. I think she knows she cannot marry Saf, but she really likes him, and she dreams that her Sparks self could be her real self so that she might’ve had a chance at a life with Saf.
Number Seven: “When he flicked the disk open, she took the edge of his hand, adjusting the angle so that she could see what she thought she saw: a large pocket watch with a face that had not twelve, but fifteen hours, and not sixty, but fifty minutes.” (pg 146)
Saf knows that Bitterblue loves arithmetic. He doesn’t know why, that it was her way of clearing her head when she was little, to clear her head of Leck’s lies, but it’s still something that comforts her. And when he steals a pocket watch for his list of things that were already stolen, he knows the weird watch is going to be something that Bitterblue will love.
The scene is made even more perfect when Bitterblue makes the calculations and declares the time right before the great city clock chimes to show she’d done the math right. Saf laughs, and the moment is perfect, and Bitterblue realizes she’s falling dangerously in love.
Number Six: “Write in cipher much, do you, baker girl?” (pg 183)
Along with arithmetic, Bitterblue loves ciphers. Ciphers are a major part of her life (and have been since she was little, though she’s forgotten some of those memories). This particular scene was a small thing, but charming. Teddy finally let Sparks into the printing shop, which shows no small level of trust in her since owning a printing shop can make one a target, and says she’s really good at placing the letters correctly. She says it’s like ciphers, and Saf pops in to make this lovely comment.
I should mention that part of what endears me to this scene, and probably to the book as a whole, is that I read Bitterblue relatively young and so it was kind of how I learned about how ciphers tended to work, and why they were harder to crack than they were to write in.
Number Five: “I trusted [Holt] five minutes ago. Now I’m at a bit of a loss.” (pg 220)
Ho, boy, is Holt a strange fellow. But it’s depressing, too, to reread the book, knowing Holt’s involvement in the killing of the truthseekers, and also realizing just how big a toll Leck had on him. This particular scene follows on the heels of two particularly concerning scenes: First, when Bitterblue saw Holt staring out a window, wondering what would happen if he fell; and second, when Po says he’d sensed Holt bringing back sculptures he’d stolen for Hava because Leck had not paid Hava’s mother for them.
Giddon has a pulse on Bitterblue’s kingdom because he’s better able to act within it, not stuck in the tower like she is, and Bitterblue wanted his opinion on Holt. And, although the situation revolving around Holt is sad, I can’t help but laugh at Giddon’s reaction to learning about Holt’s questionable actions and Bitterblue’s seemingly misplaced concern.
Number Four: “Like magic, the woman pulled off her hat and let her hair tumble down, scarlet and gold and pink, streaked with silver.” (Pg 500)
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Bitterblue. It’s been so many. I know Fire makes an appearance towards the end. I’m always expecting it, anticipating it. But if you think I don’t scream for joy every single time, you haven’t been paying attention. Just getting to catch up on Fire’s life, learning that Hannah became the commander of the Dellian army, that Fire and Brigan have been happily married for almost fifty years, that Fire is still alive, that she got to be old… Oh, my fragile heart.
Number Three: “‘Now,’ she said, trying not to show how shy she was to speak her ideas aloud. ‘I would like to add a few new ministries, so that we can have entire, focused teams working on matter s that have been grievously neglected.'” (Pg 492)
After bumbling around the entire book, trying to figure out what was going on with her kingdom, what had happened with Leck, all those riddles she had to solve, it is so rewarding to see her stand before her trusted group of friends and have a chance to be queenly, to take charge over her kingdom and to know how to do it, too. It’s the perfect conclusion to her arc, even if she is a little shy about her ideas. Everything she learned with Saf and Teddy, with Thiel and her advisors, with her pursuit to learn about Leck, she puts to use here. I’m allowed to be proud of a fictional character. If you disagree, you can fight me 😉
Number Two: “It’s possible I’ve been waiting to meet your thief all my life.” (Pg 524)
Excuse me while I go cry in the corner. In her book, Fire was struggling to come to terms with all these terrible things her father had done, how he’d nearly brought the Dells to complete and utter ruin. It’s kind of sad, really, that when Bitterblue tells Fire about Saf’s Grace, Fire implies that she still has bad dreams. But knowing that Saf can give good dreams is no small thing, and Fire might actually be able to sleep well, Brigan might be able to sleep well. It’s just a beautiful way to bring a conclusion we didn’t know we needed to Fire while also providing something of a satisfying end to the side plot between Bitterblue and Saf.
Number One: “She was enormous and electric with feeling, and wise. She reached down to the tiny person on the bridge and embraced that girl’s broken heart.” (Pg 513)
It would be an absolute scandal to finish this list with any scene other than this. Following introductions between Fire’s group and Bitterblue’s trusted castle folk, Bitterblue and Fire spend a moment alone, and Fire shows Bitterblue her own strength. It starts off with Bitterblue’s personal feelings, her sadness and fears and grief, but then Fire shows Bitterblue that she’s bigger than all of that, big enough to encompass the entire city, to comfort those still hurting from Leck’s atrocities.
And it’s beautiful in two ways. Firstly, just as a reader, it’s nice to be reminded sometimes that there are different kinds of strength, and that sometimes pain can lead to compassion, and that we are more than just our wounds. Secondly, as a character arc, the entire book, Bitterblue has been running around, trying to learn about her kingdom, certain that she’s missing a lot of important pieces and feeling rather incompetent. She’s dealt with a lot of betrayal by the end of the book, and to be shown her own strength, despite how it contrasts with what she’s feeling at the current moment, is heart-warming and strengthening.
And there’s the list! The last one! I hope you agree with some of these moments, but feel free to add your own in the comments if you want. I will admit, although I appreciate how Cashore handled certain heavy-hitting topics, I wanted to avoid spending too much time on them here, so there were a few scenes I cut loose for that reason alone. If you find Leck a creepy, disturbing villain, though, fear not. I am planning a post in December dedicated just for him, so keep a look out!