“Lady Queen,’ he said, ‘you’ve given me all I want. You’re the queen a librarian dreams of.”(Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore [uncorrected text]*)
I have never been an ‘author’ person, I tend to flit from one title to the next, and while I may develop a great amount of respect for some authors, my ‘new book’ mania keeps me moving forward. Yet, I have somehow managed to break my habits for the sake of Kristin Cashore. Not only is she a graduate from Simmons (as I will be in Aug.), but she has a lovely style and a truly insightful way of writing YA fantasy.
She won my heart forever in Bitterblue with her treatment of librarians. Although the first scene with ‘Death’, the head librarian, had me concerned that she would stoop to the general, dry, unkind librarian trope – she ended up surprising me by allowing the character to grow and change, and even positioning him as integral to the mystery. She even subtly uses Death to address issues such as conservation, reference and even cataloging! Any book for children or teens that works to subvert the ubiquitous image of the stern, cold-hearted librarian is one that will gain my approval and gratitude.
Kristin Cashore doesn’t stop there – she also does a good deal towards undermining the idea that fantasy novels can only contain straight, heterosexual partnerships. If you think about it, fantasy is replete with sexual tension between strong men and (sometimes) strong women. Cashore includes two major characters who are gay, one minior character, and a whole kingdom that allows ‘women to take a wife and men to take a husband’. She also allows her characters the latitude to choose to have long-term, unmarried relationships, or to have intimate relationships that don’t work out.
I have read a lot of mixed reviews about Kristin Cashore, but I obviously come down on the ‘for’ side. I suspect the reason for the differing opinions is that she doesn’t use lightning-fast pacing like so many YA novels do today – so when people read her, they aren’t getting what they expect. The pacing is slow, almost akin to a classic, and she takes her time world building and developing her characters fully. For those of you wondering whether Bitterblue will be more like Graceling or more like Fire, I would say that it is closer in style to Graceling, while still retaining the sense of epic-ness that Fire possessed. Although her first book remains my favorite, Cashore is an author that I am going to have my eye on for a long time.
*I read an advanced copy of Bitterblue, which won’t hit stores until May.