Friday, July 26, 2013

Review: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

Review: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
Release date: August 27th, 2013
Publisher: Greenwillow (Harper)
Series: #3 in the Girl of Fire and Thorns series
Source: Borrowed from Lili
Rating: I really, really don't want this series to be over. HECTOR. Elisa is my hero. 99% awesome, 1% quibble. YA fantasy at its finest.

The Bitter Kingdom (Fire and Thorns, #3)

 The epic conclusion to Rae Carson's Fire and Thorns trilogy. 

The seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen will travel into the unknown realm of the enemy to win back her true love, save her country, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny.

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 Hector, 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.

Warning: GIGANTIC spoilers for books one and two in the series, The Girl of Fire and Thorns and Crown of Embers

The cover: I will always wish that these covers showed Elisa in her full-figured glory, but of the three, this is probably my favorite. No, wait, The Crown of Embers is my favorite, but I love how wintry cold this cover is. That face is rather awkward, though.

The story: I was more than a little excited when Lili told me she had traded for a copy of The Bitter Kingdom.

I mean, this series has it all. Strong characters. Hector. A well-defined heroine who's easy to root for. Hector. Tremendous world building, tremendous Hector, a full cast of Hectors characters, spellbinding romance.

And while it's a wrench to say goodbye to a world and a heroine I've loved so well, with the way the second book ended (HECTOR!!!!1!!!), I couldn't stop myself from devouring The Bitter Kingdom.

Elisa: Elisa is my hero and I want to be her when I grow up. There are some characters in high fantasy that are rulers, and you just can't see them being good at it. Elisa is a queen. She is the queenliest queen to ever queen. She was born to rule and is so darn good at it that she just left me slack-jawed. Comparing iron-willed, fearless Queen Elisa to the insecure, frightened, sedentary girl she was at the start of the series is just incredible. She truly has a heroic arc.

My fear with this series has always been the reliance on magic and God, and how those elements are what make Elisa a hero (particularly in Book One). But TBK REALLY underlined the fact that Elisa's true heroism comes from her quick mind, brilliant plans, and determination. That is ultimately what makes her triumph. When stripped of all the things she thought made her strong, Elisa finds her true strength in herself.

Girlfriend should run for president. Like, she is a savant for diplomacy. I'd vote for her.

Hector: So, Hector is really hot.

I'm pleased to inform you that Hector continues to be hot, and I love him, and everything about him is perfection and also a gigantic spoiler. So sadly, I can say NOTHING, except that there are chapters from his point of view and it will make you die with happiness. The romance in this series is not angst-driven or drama-filled. These two levelheaded characters are equals who truly respect and admire each other. There is no love triangle, no moaning, no weeping over needlessly broken hearts. It is loyal, steady, and strong. It's passionate and sure and so beautiful. UGH. HECTOR.

The other characters: There are a few characters in this series who are so vivid that I giggle every time they're on the page. The two standouts were, for me, Storm and Mula. Somehow Storm came to be my favorite character in the whole book, save for the two leads. His loyalty, arrogance, and complete inability to perceive sarcasm are just incredibly endearing. And just wait until you meet hilarious, precocious little Mula. She's heartbreaking and hysterical all at the same time. This characters also provide so much worldbuilding that it's just astounding. I mean. WORLDBUILDING. Carson's world is ao deep and full of detail that I feel like she could write ten more series set here. You discover so much about Invierne and the zafira and Godstones.

Plot: So The Crown of Embers left off at quite a low point for Elisa. Hector was captured and dragged to Invierne, her nurse Ximena has been dismissed for causing the aforementioned to happen, and a political coup has all but wrested political control away from Elisa. But as is trypical with out brilliant, practical girl, she gets to business pretty quickly. The Bitter Kingdom opens soon after the last events of TCoE, with Elisa and her friends in pursuit of Hector's captors.


Obviously, all kinds of crazy things occur, including (but not limited to) hideous monsters in the deep, creepy SECRETS in secret creepy cellars, battles, avalanches, blizzards, death, and the freaking Mines of Moria. Elisa must outwit and outmaneuver absolutely everyone: the Inviernos (and MORE Inviernos with OTHER political goals), the general and the Conde who stole her kingdom, her own friends, and her own family. Nobody can concoct an epic scheme like Elisa.

Slight negatives: I felt things needed to be MORE BRUTAL. Yes, Elisa and her friends go through a lot of horrible things and a lot of setbacks (see above list), but generally things work out too well too often. Realistically, more people would die, and more of their plans would fail. I ADORE all these characters, so I didn't exactly wish them harm, or anything, but things shouldn't happen easily in fiction ever. Especially not in the epic conclusion or an epic fantasy, which was still, in my opinion, quite epic.

I always felt that Mara was a bit of a flat character, and I don't know why. She has a backstory and some personality, but she doesn't pop the way the leads, Storm, and Mula do. I like her and her friendship and conflicts with Elisa, though. 

I found one or two pacing issues: scenes that needed fleshing out, sequences that needed tightening, but no book is perfect. TBK succeeded for me in all the places it should.

Also, it legitimately made me laugh out loud at times. Lili can attest to that.

 But now it's... over. It's over now. It's... over.


Didn't you hear me, James Marsden? IT'S OVER. No more Elisa. No more Hector. NO MORE REASON TO LIVE.*

 *slight exaggeration.

 Thanks, Rae Carson, for this gorgeous series and fantastic characters. I cannot WAIT to read what you write next! *obsessively goes back to read all the kissing scenes in all the books*


  1. Cannot read because of gigantic spoilers, but YAY for a good ending. Also, funny? That would be a bit difference. Since you think this one's perfect, I'm hoping there's EVEN LESS religious stuff, because man that was annoying.

    But whatever HECTORRRRRRR

  2. That Lion King gif and your caption! xD

    No but seriously ... Hector. I am so excited for this book and so glad that Carson played out the romance the way she did in the first two books. Elisa grew up a lot in books 1 and 2, so I'm intrigued that she's all "queenliest queen to ever queen" now. Does she put the smackdown on bad people? Man I would love to see her put the smackdown on somebody mouthing off to her.

  3. I am so happy you adored this book! I can't wait to read it, especially after you made me read book two while you read book three. YOU GOT ME SO FREAKING EXCITED!!!!!

  4. This book made Storm my favorite character outside Elisa and Hector too. And I did not think that could happen. I LOVED him here though.

    Yes to everything else you said as well.

    And that caption with The Lion King gif made me snort Pepsi up my nose.

  5. This is a lovely review! I adored Storm and Mula in this one. Can we please have a Red Sparkle Stone novella? And one for Storm, too. I agree it could have been more brutal, but I guess I was just in a Hector-induced stupor and didn't really notice/care. :)


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