Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
Elisa is the chosen one.
But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can't see how she ever will.
Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.
And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.
Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.
Most of the chosen do.
(Summary from GoodReads)
Once I started The Girl of Fire and Thorns, I was immediately ashamed of myself for taking so long to read it. I’m eternally indebted to Ally who told me she loved it and encouraged me to get a move on. Carson’s debut had everything I could want in a fantasy, had lovely prose, and was expertly plotted, giving it a new spot on my favorites shelf.
Elisa is one of the most realistic characters I’ve found in high fantasy. She doesn’t start off as confident—she doesn’t like her body and is surprised when men are attracted to her. I know her self-deprecation bothered some readers, but when you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin, it can be hard to take your mind off of it.
Carson’s world isn’t quite like anything I’ve seen recently in fantasy. Religion is heavily incorporated into the world and the story, and I loved that. The world as we are reading it is well built, but we’re also able to get a sense of its past. The descriptions of Elisa’s home show that it is simultaneously a beautiful and dangerous place.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns is fast-paced from the start. There is action and political intrigue with every turn of the page. Carson even throws in a little bit of romance—I totally swooned over Humberto. A lot of swooning has happened while reading Rae Carson’s books.
Do you love high fantasy? Do you want to swoon? Are you ready for some political intrigue? Then move The Girl of Fire and Thorns to the top of your pile.
She does not know what awaits her at the enemy's gate.
Elisa is a hero.
She led her people to victory over a terrifying, sorcerous army. Her place as the country's ruler should be secure. But it isn't.
Her enemies come at her like ghosts in a dream, from foreign realms and even from within her own court. And her destiny as the chosen one has not yet been fulfilled.
To conquer the power she bears, once and for all, Elisa must follow a trial of long-forgotten—and forbidden—clues, from the deep, hidden catacombs of her own city to the treacherous seas. With her go a one-eyed spy, a traitor, and the man whom—despite everything—she is falling in love with.
If she's lucky, she will return from this journey. But there will be a cost.
(Summary from GoodReads)
Sometimes I can be slow to pick up the second book in a series, which was not the case with this series. I was ready for more of ever element of this story. I love that we got to see growth from Elisa, but we also got to know a lot of the side characters better, and see even more of the world.
A lot of people say these books start off slowly, but The Crown of Embers is filled with intrigue as Elisa’s life is in constant danger. Her kingdom, which is in a sticky situation politically, isn’t sure if she’s fit to rule. Watching Elisa try to figure out who she could trust and who she couldn’t kept me turning the pages late into the night on this one—Carson made sure that I really wanted to know.
Readers also get to learn a little bit more about Invierne and other parts of the world. This really helped build up the tension for book two. I liked seeing how the magic in this world can work in different ways.
We do see Elisa grow as a character—she becomes a stronger woman, a better sorcerer, and a more strategic political leader. What I loved even more was seeing how her relationship with Hector grew. After reading The Girl of Fire and Thorns I’d seen a few people mention how swoonworthy Hector is, and while I didn’t totally understand it at the time, now I do. Hector is the type of man who is totally filled with loyalty for Elisa, and their romance has lots of political, sexual, and romantic tension. Yes, please.
The ending of The Crown of Embers felt a teensy bit rushed, but that’s a pretty minor complaint, and otherwise I have nothing but positive things to say about this installment of Carson’s series. Carson is quickly becoming one of my favorite fantasy authors and her books fill me with emotion. The Crown of Embers left me wanting not just more of Hector and Elisa, but more of anything by Rae Carson.
The champion must not waver.
The champion must not fear.
The gate of darkness closes.
Elisa is a fugitive.
Her enemies have stolen the man she loves, and they await her at the gate of darkness. Her country is on the brink of civil war, with her own soldiers ordered to kill her on sight.
Her Royal Majesty, Queen Lucero-Elisa né Riqueza de Vega, bearer of the Godstone, will lead her three loyal companions deep into the enemy's kingdom, a land of ice and snow and brutal magic, to rescue Hector and win back her throne. Her power grows with every step, and the shocking secrets she will uncover on this, her final journey, could change the course of history.
But that is not all. She has a larger destiny. She must become the champion the world has been waiting for.
Even of those who hate her most.
(Summary from GoodReads)
The Bitter Kingdom was a book I was actually nervous to read. I had to know what happens, but what if I didn’t love it as much as its predecessors? While The Bitter Kingdom got off to a slightly slow start, it turned out to be my favorite in the series, and cemented Carson’s books as some of my new all time favorites.
Do you think that you felt all possible emotions in the first two books in this series? Well, it’s time to think again. Once again, Rae Carson manages to show us a different side of her world in these books. She takes us to Invierne, and as you can probably tell from the cover, snow is involved at one point (side note: really glad I read this in the summer, as I find that I can’t always read books featuring lots of snow in the winter). It was really great to learn more about Storm and to see world building continue to happen.
While all of this was happening, Carson kept up the pace pretty well. The first 80 pages were a little slower, but once those were done I flew through this book. Carson created tension in a way that had my cringing and sitting on the edge of my seat.
Speaking of tension, let’s talk about sexual and romantic tension, because it definitely exists here. Readers get to see Elisa and Hector spend a lot of time together and talk about them. Hector is a romantic man, and I saw a lot of qualities in him that I would not mind having in my own partners. Reader, I swooned.
I should not have been nervous about the conclusion of Carson’s trilogy. Friends, The Bitter Kingdom has it all. It’s not only a stunning novel on its own, but it shows how much Carson grew as a writer between the first and the third books. I am forever going to cherish my hardcovers of these books as they are among my all time favorites, not just in fantasy, but overall.
Disclosure: I purchased copies of all three of these books.