The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

This fall is just filled with much anticipated YA sequels, and this was one of the tops for me.  I’m happy to report that it totally lived up to my expectations, if not surpassing them.  Trilogies have become so common now that I find when I am reading a book in one I think more than I ever used to about how the book fits into the trilogy as a whole, it’s function, and what role it plays in the overall story arc.  Because I’m a kid of the 70s/80s, I tend to still reference trilogies by comparing them to Star Wars. So in this case Crown of Embers is Empire Strikes Back, thus I expect it to be a little darker, more intense, and unresolved as the characters prepare for an epic and final battle.

I have to admit that as much as I really loved The Girl of Fire and Thorns last year, I couldn’t remember many details.  They did somewhat return to me as I was reading, but it didn’t matter too much.  Elisa is now the queen of the country, but still not fully safe from the magical and mysterious Invierno.  She has her trusted nurse and lady’s maid and Hector, her personal guard with whom she is clearly in love.  There’s a lot going on in this story, so I’m going to boil it down to this: Elisa and a few others go on a secret and dangerous mission, filled with challenges from God, to fulfill her destiny and claim some power that will help her rule and protect her country.   There was indeed lots of danger and excitement and Elisa is a great heroine.  I enjoyed her relationships with the others, and especially when she turns to Mara to talk to about confusing new feelings and intimacy between a man and woman.

What’s really interesting in these books is that although there is a magical or supernatural element to them (her Godstone has powers, the animagi draw fire from the earth, etc.) the stronger presence is actually religion.  Elisa’s Godstone is a direct conduit to God, her relationship with him is a tremendous part of her life, and the made up religion (which seems to be fact-all the populace believe) is thought out and described very fully.

This was a great installment that can totally stand on its own, but taken as the middle of the trilogy has fulfilled my second book requirement–leaving us with the heroine ready to face a final epic battle with critical relationships changed. I’m definitely looking forward to the conclusion!

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