Even Stevens’s #CBR5 review #25: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

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On her 16th birthday, Elisa is wed to Alejandro – the king of a neighboring country whom she has never met. The marriage is a political one and Elisa, shy and nervous, would be content to be a lifelong wallflower and let her sister and father worry about politics. For Elisa, though, that will never happen because she also happens to be the bearer of the Godstone – a jewel placed in the belly of a chosen child on his or her naming day by God himself, marking the child for God’s chosen one. As Elisa leaves her home to go to a foreign country she is plunged into a world of political strategizing, greed, deception and sorcery. She must also contend with the fact that there are those who wish to eliminate the bearer of the Godstone and take its power for themselves.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns is 400 pages of high fantasy action and adventure, but it is also the tale of one spoiled young princess becoming a strong young woman. Elisa struggles with her weight and actually wishes for an ugly husband, so that she cannot disappoint him with her appearance. She’s loving toward her handmaids but also is self-absorbed and stubborn. Despite these last traits (or heck, maybe even because of them), Elisa is easy to relate to and I was rooting for her from the first page.

Carson does an excellent job of painting Elisa as a teenage girl on the cusp of becoming a woman.  She is smart and tough but hasn’t yet figured out how to apply those traits to the world around her.  As the events of the book unfold, she’s thrust into sink-or-swim situations and she becomes not only a survivor, but a fighter, proud and strong.  There is a hint of a love triangle that develops, and while I was initially annoyed by this overplayed trope, Carson turned the tired out scenario right on its head, leaving me pleasantly surprised.

Surprises are something this book is not short on. There were several situations in which I thought I knew exactly what would play out, but I was so wrong (and happy to be so wrong). Carson keeps up a fast pace and so many developments occur that I wonder what will happen in the next two books. Yes it is a trilogy, but for once I am beyond excited to dive in to the next installment.  In fact, I just got the next two as a Christmas gift, so I will be delving in shortly!

In a YA market crowded with supernatural and fantasy books, Carson’s excellent writing and character development make her stand out amongst the crowd. If you’re a fan of high fantasy with a kick-ass female protagonist (think Graceling) then I would recommend giving this book a go, I don’t think you will be disappointed.

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narfna’s #CBR5 Review #82: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

bitter kingdomThis was a great ending to a great series. Rae Carson sets a standard for writing competency that other lesser YA authors would be wise to measure themselves up to. It might not sound like a compliment when I say that Rae Carson’s best quality as a writer is her dependability, but it is. While her writing style doesn’t really lend itself to WOW moments, and those she tries to create fall somewhat flat, the underlying strength of her characters, her prose, and her world-building provides such a good foundation that her stories flow along smoothly even without the kick of a WOW moment.

And honestly, that might be kind of the point here.

The Bitter Kingdom concludes Elisa’s arc in a very satisfying manner. Elisa and her companions journey into enemy territory to rescue the scrumdiddlyumptious Hector, wrapping up plotlines as they journey back to ELisa’s kingdom. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll just say while none of the resolutions were earth-shattering, they all made sense and fit in with the overarching themes of Carson’s story.

The focus of the Fire and Thorns was never the war or the political alliances or the religion and mysticism. It was Elisa. Her growth from the first book is kind of astounding, and even more astounding is Carson’s ability to have her main character grow and change so gradually that we barely notice it as it’s happening. It’s only after something happens to call attention to it that we realize, hey, something’s different here.

And I absolutely loved that SPOILER (highlight to read): the reveal of the purpose of Elisa’s Godstone was so anticlimactic. This whole series we — and the characters — have been laboring under the impression that Elisa having that Godstone in her belly would play a significant part in the endgame of the series, but it doesn’t. Elisa’s destiny is essentially to dig a giant hole. All the rest of that stuff, the stuff that’s filled three books? She did it all on her own. And that is really nifty, and not just in the way it’s playing off expected genre tropes, but for Elisa’s character as well.

If you like YA and/or fantasy, this is definitely a series you should check out. It’s smart and well-written and it’s got a good head on its shoulders, even if it isn’t as flashy as others. Looking forward to Carson’s next series very much.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #123: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

This is the third and final book in the Fire and Thorns trilogy, and as such, it’s not where you want to start reading the series. The first book, The Girl of Fire and Thorns is the place to begin. This review will inevitably contain spoilers for the previous two books in the series, and will also, in part, be my review of the series as a whole.

The Bitter Kingdom starts where The Crown of Embers ended, with young queen regent Elisa’s kingdom on the brink of civil war, and her Captain of the Guard (and the man she’d finally admitted that she loved and decided to marry) taken hostage by soldiers from neighbouring Invierno, who want the Godstone in her belly and are using Hector as bait to get her to follow them into their country. Accompanied by only a former freedom fighter/assassin, her lady in waiting and a failed Invierno sorcerer, Elisa needs to catch up with the soldiers, rescue Hector, figure out what is actually going on with the Invierno sorcerers, and find a way to defeat the rebellious nobles who are trying to destabilise her country and usurp her throne.

Full review on my blog.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #5: The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

CrownOfEmbers%20hc%20cTalk about your middle book syndrome. This one was disappointing after having read the first book in the Fire and Thorns series. The events and characters from book one are clear and memorable, and even though I just finished this about three days ago, already the events and characters (with a couple of notable exceptions) are slipping through the cracks in my memory. Especially compared with #1, this one just felt kind of messy. The good news is that Carson’s characters are still great, her world-building is still fresh, and Elisa’s evolution as a character continues to impress me (as does Carson’s ability to create lovable romantic partners for her).

Spoilers for book one, ahoy!

Elisa is now queen of Joya d’Arena, but her competence as a leader begins to fade as she’s besieged on all sides by disloyal advisors, assassins, conspiracies, and court politics. And it’s as frustrating to read about as it sounds. Meanwhile, Elisa is still trying to unlock the secrets of her Godstone, even as the Inviernos begin to reignite their war against her. To make all of this even worse, she’s beginning to fall for her bodyguard Hector, even though she must choose a husband for political reasons. It’s all very muddled and stressful. But like with book one, it takes a turn when they leave the city and head out into the wilds, this time on a quest for a powerful object connected to Elisa’s Godstone.

But for as muddled as it was at times, the ending saved it, and I’m now looking forward to book three in the fall. Hector was yummy, Mara was a good addition as Elisa’s “side-kick,” and I was happy that by the end, Elisa had finally gotten her confidence back. Can I give this a 3.77777777777? I don’t know why that specific number, but it feels right.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #4: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

THE-GIRL-OF-FIRE-AND-THORNSThis book surprised me a little. I’ve been kind of OD’d on YA literature for the past couple of months or so, and this book was a breath of fresh air. It’s not that it was GREAT or anything, but it was incredibly solid and actually really well-written, which is a REALLY nice change of pace for this sort of book. Part of the reason I’m kind of over YA lit right now (despite the fact that I for some reason continue to read it?) is that so much of it is poorly written. There’s nothing particularly mind-blowing about The Girl of Fire and Thorns, but what’s there is remarkably competent, and Rae Carson actually manages to do some really fresh things with her characters even as the basic arc of her story remains pretty standard.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns begins with our heroine, Elisa, the princess of a small kingdom in a vaguely jungle-like area of the world being married off to a man she’s never met before, the king of a nearby country. Elisa is smart but very unsure of herself, and very self-conscious about her weight and general sense of worth. Elisa was born special (because of course she was) — in Carson’s world, one person in a century is blessed with a jewel called the Godstone that lives in her navel (yes, lives) that supposedly connects directly to God. This person is called the Bearer and is destined to serve her people in some way, although the specifics aren’t clear. Elisa has been raised to know that her life is not her own, and her marriage to King Alejandro is a direct result of her being the Bearer.

But when Elisa reaches her new kingdom, her marriage is kept a secret, and her handsome husband is kind but aloof. On top of all that, she’s kidnapped by a group of rebels who believe her to be their savior, and that’s when the book gets interesting.

Elisa’s journey as a character is really interesting. As the book goes on her self-confidence grows as does her role in the world she inhabits. In many ways this is a book about how a child grows into being a leader, but it’s also a sneaky study of religion and faith and love. I really appreciated Carson’s writing style as she doesn’t always do the expected thing or the safe thing (for instance, SPOILER Elisa’s love interest, Humberto, is killed off by the end of the book, where any other YA book — cough Delirium cough — would have chickenshitted out and kept him alive END SPOILER). Instead, she picks the brave thing, which also most often happens to be the interesting thing. The religion in the book is central, a sort of magical pseudo-Catholicism, and the world is populated by mixed cultures. Elisa herself I would describe as being Hispanic in inspiration. It was a huge relief to not read a YA world that was completely white-washed. It felt fresh.

If you’re fantasy fan or a YA fan at all, check this one out. Again, it wasn’t like I came out of this thinking OMG BEST BOOK EVER, but it was so wonderfully competent and surprising that I’m really glad I read it.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #6: Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

This book is the second book in the Fire and Thorns trilogy. While this review is unlikely to contain big spoilers for the previous book in the series, this book really doesn’t work well on its own, and it would be better if you started at the beginning with The Girl of Fire and Thorns.

Now the widowed queen of a constantly besieged country, Elisa is doing her best to be a better ruler than her weak and cowardly former husband, but as she’s still only seventeen, and not exactly experienced as a ruler, she’s not having an easy job of it. The only people she can trust implicitly are her closest servants and Hector, the head of her Royal guard.

Read the rest of this review on my blog.