This is the third of Cashore's Graceling novels, though this one is more of a direct sequel to Graceling, unlike Fire which was a companion novel set in the same world. This time, the novel focuses on Bitterblue, ten years after the events of Graceling. Bitterblue was the fierce young girl that stood up to her father, the evil King Leck, with Katsa's help, and found herself in charge of a kingdom at the age of 8. Ten years later, it turns out that things are not all well in her realm. While she wants to be a good ruler, she has been pushed to the side by her advisors, partially because of her age, and partially because of their desire to protect her. Bitterblue knows of her father's violent past and evils from her own personal experience, but she is unaware of just how badly his influence affected his kingdom, and doesn't know the right questions to ask. As a result, she is rather unaware of many of the problems in her realm, and sometimes is disrespectful and rude to the wrong people.
As the novel progresses, Bitterblue grows into her role, and begins to question her position and her past. She tries to remember more about her childhood, much of which is blurry due to her father's ability to control minds, and slowly faces the pains that her kingdom has endured. She comes to realize that even with her father's control over people, simply ignoring the past may not be the best way to heal, especially given some of the odd things going on around the castle.
While I didn't enjoy this one as much as Graceling, I definitely preferred it to Fire. It was nice to catch up with Katsa and Po, and all their friends again, and Bitterblue just worked for me more as a character. In a way this could sound odd, since Fire and Bitterblue face similar issues. They are both the daughters of bad men who did unspeakable horrors, who also occasionally revealed more affectionate sides to their daughters. However, they also face very different challenges since Fire has to deal with the fact that she has similar powers and people fear her like they feared her father, while Bitterblue has to learn to rule wisely. In some ways, Blue has the harder path because she has to put the kingdom back together while Fire could choose to live in seclusion if she wanted to. I think the main reason I preferred this one is because Bitterblue appeals to me more as a character while the focus on how attractive Fire was got to be a bit much. It seems like most YA trilogies start off strong and getter weaker as time progress. This is one I actually feel very comfortable recommending because even though the books vary in quality, they are mostly good, and it is one trilogy that doesn't end weakly.