The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

bitterFirst of all, I couldn’t believe it when I went to put it on hold and there were five copies in the library system and every one was checked in. What are you waiting for, people? This is one of the best trilogies ever. It has romance, adventure, survival, a fully created and detailed kingdom, and is a perfectly put together trilogy. Put these books on hold post haste! (but your loss is my gain because I ran and checked it out right away.)

So, when the second book ended Hector had been taken by the Inviernos as a lure to Elisa. We knew she’d accept that challenge and try to rescue him. And yes, that is how things start. Although I couldn’t exactly remember all that had happened in the first two books, enough gets told to you to figure it out. There is adventure, dramatic conflicts and reveals, political intrigue, and all kinds of battle plans.  Elisa is really a kick ass heroine. She is not just a queen in name, but fully engaged in her plans to bring peace to the world and regain her kingdom. She has excellent hand to hand combat skills, communicates directly with God, and is also smart. I felt that her relationship with God and her Godstone, while still pivotal, took a slight backseat in this installment to some of the other action (which is totally fine.) I can’t believe how much this book packed in.  This was one of the most exciting and satisfying trilogies I’ve ever enjoyed.

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!

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

I only got this for the Best of the Best reading challenge, and didn’t even know anything about it.  Sometimes I like to go into a book not knowing too much about it and I’m really glad I didn’t.  It made every plot turn, character, and detail so surprising and exciting and fresh.  This story was so wonderful that I picked it up from the library Tuesday afternoon and by Wednesday night had finished it.  I stayed up late reading and the next day let Tabby watch extra tv just so I could keep reading.  This had adventure, romance, and fantasy all wrapped in one.  It reminded me very much of Shannon Hale and Tamora Pierce novels-a fully imagined and created world that seems historical and bears a resemblance to civilizations in our world, yet has an element of magic, and its own unique history and mythology.  Also like Hale and Pierce’s books, this one has a kick ass strong heroine.  But she doesn’t start out that way!   Although Elisa is a princess and doted on by her nurse and maid, she has always been aware that her thinner, prettier, stronger sister is, frankly, the better princess and will make a great queen.  Elisa’s strengths lie in her intelligence-she has read extensively of war and military strategy, and she is also extremely pious and  is well versed in scripture. In fact, Elisa has a direct connection to God, though she is not yet sure for what purpose.
The story kicks off with Elisa being married to a somewhat neighboring king as a tactical alliance.  En route to his kingdom the adventure begins.  I really don’t want to say anything more plot-wise.  All you need to know is that it’s a wonderful story.  Religion plays a huge part in the story and I’m not sure I’ve really read anything before that has religion play such a large part where the religion is one made for the story.  It’s monotheistic but not Christian, but seems very believable.  It was all very fully realized for the story, which I just thought made it amazingly well written.

Also, I had no idea if this was going to be a series or what, but nowadays everything is a series so I assumed it was and was prepared for an unsatisfactory ending.  I was delighted to find out that the story was stand alone and had a completely satisfying ending. Then when I looked it up on Goodreads to do this post I see that it is listed as “#1”, so I guess it is going to be the start of the series (or, more likely, trilogy.) But that’s ok because like I said, this is completely stand alone and also I really liked Elisa and would love to read more about her.

Absolutely wonderful!!