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.

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.