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Beautiful Bitterblue

Kristin Cashore Bitterblue coverAs a big fan of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling and Fire, I was excited to review Bitterblue (Dial), the third book in her Graceling Realm, for the May/June issue of The Horn Book Magazine. I had to work from the galley, but on Monday the hardcover finally arrived in the office. With elaborate maps and illustrations by Ian Schoenherr (Caldecott medalist for Owl Moon and [note: our mistake! Ian Schoenherr is the son of Owl Moon illustrator John Schoenherr] illustrator of Maile Meloy’s recent The Apothecary) and thoughtfully designed by Jennifer Kelly, the finished book is mighty impressive.

The paisley-patterned endpapers and title page were what first caught my eye.

intricate woodblock-style patterns on the title page

Then I discovered a whole other array of things that weren’t in the galley. Schoenherr stylistically envisions Bitterblue’s world in drawings that look like they’re woodblock (the medium isn’t mentioned, but our designer Lolly thinks the lines are too intricate to be actual woodblock). Elegant section-opening double-page spreads illustrate key scenes.

my favorite section opener

Detailed maps, illustrations, and diagrams at the front and back of the book help clarify Cashore’s imaginative world; if (like me) readers wonder about the exact look of the many bridges or the layout of the maze-like castle, they need only look to Schoenherr’s pictures for clarification. There’s also a tongue-in-cheek—and very helpful—“Who’s Who of the World as We Know It” appendix, purportedly written by Bitterblue’s royal librarian, Death (it even includes an ink stain caused by Death’s cat, Lovejoy).

the "Winged Bridge"

The galley did indicate that maps and a character list were to come; it’s not unusual for galleys to arrive without these sorts of things. However, since Cashore’s previous novels didn’t feature such an elaborate design, I didn’t expect quite this much. I can’t say it would have changed my review; the illustrations act primarily as clarification, with the heart of the novel in the text itself. It does make me wonder, though: at what point is a galley not satisfactory to properly review a book? And how can a reviewer know until she sees the final version (at which point it might be too late)?

Head on over to Kristin Cashore’s blog to find out more about the text/illustration collaboration and to read what she thinks of Schoenherr’s renderings of her Graceling Realm. I wholeheartedly agree with her comments!

Cynthia K. Ritter About Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is associate editor of The Horn Book Guide. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons College.



  1. Most of what I review, I review from galleys/ARCs. That has been true for some years/decades. But more and more, I wonder about it. More and more, galleys are full of typos, unfinished thoughts, and of course, no design/illustration. Galleys for picture books are usually pretty good, but not always, the color might be less true, or the size not right. I have more and more concerns about this. As we get pushed to review earlier and earlier, it’s a conversation I think we need to have.

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