Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It's not just that these books about the Seven Kingdoms are a great read, it's that each book builds on the last without being a real sequel. Characters from the first two books appear here but the focus is Princess, later Queen, Bitterblue of Monsea.
Bitterblue is the daughter of King Leck and Queen Ashen - Leck is a Graceling with a sociopath's interest in others, Ashen is desperate to save their daughter from his clutches. At age eight, things come to a head and Princess Bitterblue becomes Queen. Ten years later she's snowed under a mound of paperwork, knowing little about the kingdom she rules with the help of several of her father's former retainers. Being an intelligent, inquisitive woman this situation doesn't suit her... and that's all I'll say for fear of serious spoilers.
While at times I felt there was a little padding in terms of description or elongation of events, the characters and world of Monsea are so wonderfully realized that the irritation was fleeting. It was also interesting that there are events alluded to during the ten years between the Prologue and the main story that aren't fully fleshed out, allowing readers' imaginations to fill in some of the blanks.
ARC provided by publisher.