by Rae Carson
To be published on August 27, 2013
by Greenwillow Books
Source: e-ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss. Please see my full FTC disclosure on right sidebar.
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Summary from Goodreads: Elisa is a fugitive in her own country. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves in order to lure her to the gate of darkness. As she and her daring companions take one last quest into unknown enemy territory to save him, Elisa will face hardships she's never imagined. And she will discover secrets about herself and her world that could change the course of history. She must rise up as champion -- a champion to those who have hated her most.
My spoiler-free take: As someone who's just started reading and appreciating YA fantasy, I've enjoyed this trilogy so much. I think that Crown of Embers is still my favorite book in the trilogy, but I also thought that The Bitter Kindgom was a fitting end to Elisa's story, with plenty of romance, heartbreak, suspense and sacrifice. As was the case when I started book two, Crown of Embers, it took me a few chapters to get myself oriented and immersed back into the story world. I could have used a little more recap. There was a lot of travel and action in this book -- plotting and hiding and fight scenes and a whole underground sequence that reminded me a lot of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I didn't feel that Elisa grew as much as a character in this book. On the one hand, I was happy that she's grown so confident, but her lack of confidence in prior books made her more relatable. I also enjoyed the addition of the new POV :)
In order to keep this completely spoiler-free, I'll list the things I love most about the entire trilogy:
The story world
In the world of the books, there are interwoven levels of struggle. The deepest and oldest of these is over magic, a force beneath the earth's surface called zafira. As a Chosen One, Elisa is able to tap into this power through her godstone, a gem in her belly button. There's political intrigue, with rival kingdoms and monarchs and plenty of plotting and scheming, and cultural clashes. Elisa's kingdom is threatened the Inviernos -- an army led by sorcerers. All of these aspects felt very well thought-out and integrated into the story.
Elisa's character development
I love the fact that this trilogy is also the story of one young woman's growth as a person, a woman and a ruler. Over the three books, Elisa grows from a sheltered and spoiled royal to a shell-shocked queen facing loss and betrayal to a determined and focused leader. All the things that have happened to her in the first two books test her faith and her self-confidence, making her a stronger, wiser, and more compassionate person. As I said above, I think there's less character development in The Bitter Kingdom than in the other two books, but Elisa still comes a long way from book one.
The action and adventure
I'm not a reader who needs fight scenes and stuff. But take characters I care about and put them in dangerous situations, and I'm turning the pages like crazy. Elisa spends most of The Bitter Kingdom on the road and away from her palace. She's traveling with a very small party of people loyal to her -- an assassin, a lady in waiting and a failed sorcerer -- and they're trying to rescue someone very important to Elisa.
I loved that the romance in these books was not the typical YA love at first sight or love triangle. Elisa experiences all different kinds of relationships, from an arranged marriage to being a stepmother to to a girlish crush to… yes, the kind of love that might just last a lifetime.
If you are a fantasy reader, a fan of YA writers like Kristen Cashore and Melina Marchetta, you should definitely not miss these books. But if, like me, you are not a huge fantasy reader, I still think you'll find lots to love in these books. There's plenty of action, romance, and intrigue, but the books also raise interesting questions about faith, identity and justice.