Bitterblue is Queen, but her Kingdom is a wreck. The people are still affected and oppressed by Leck's reign, even though it ended years ago. Bitterblue, not content with being cooped up in her office and fed paperwork, decides to take things into her own hands by exploring her city in disguise. What she discovers is that the lies and secrets of King Leck run deeper than she ever thought they could, and they are all caught up in a web of death, books and ciphers that began with her father's fixation on another land.
As always, Cashores world-building is flawless. The story transports you into the Graceling realm to Bitterblue City until your are stealing into the night with the Queen yourself. Of course, the ideas for gracelings and monsters are already fully established thanks to the first two books, but it is very easy to go back to that world, even if you have not read the previous books recently.
The character arc for Bitterblue is stunning; full of emotion, determination and realisations. Bitterblue struggles with finding out the truth about her father and the atrocities that he committed during his reign, and has to deal her own emotions as well as those of everyone affected by him. As she comes to realise the full extent of what he has done to her Kingdom, she also has to deal with the pressure to put things right again. Honestly, the range of emotions and difficult situations to be dealt with in this book is extraordinary. Bitterblue is a great protagonist, and I love the way that she is so well-rounded, full of compassion but succumbs to anger and fear just as easily. However, I was slightly disappointed by some other familiar faces, as they tended to flit in and out of the book regularly. In fact, only Po really became integral to the plot in any way.
The theme of grief and healing was very important in this book, and I love the way the author dealt with it in that although some parts were distressing, the way that Bitterblue reacts to it is very human and very understandable. It will resonate with a lot of readers on a very raw level.
As much as the book was a good read, and the ending was satisfying, there was something missing for me. The pace of the book seemed to crawl and although a lot was happening, it didn't keep my eyes open at night. The idea of ciphers was clever and well-researched, but the reading of it, and in fact the reading about Bitterblue's time in the library made for dull reading for me.
As much as I liked knowing that Bitterblue makes a great Queen, the book didn't wow me the way its predecessors did and I could have gone without reading it. Still, this is a good read for anyone who enjoys fantasy and the Graceling Realm series. Fire still remains my favourite book of the series.