Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

The Bitter Kingdom 
by Rae Carson
Read: May 2013
Published: August 27, 2013 by Greenwillow Books **UPCOMING**
Source: Around the world arc tours
Category: Fantasy YA
Series: Girl of Fire and Thorns book 3

NOTE: The Bitter Kingdom is the third book in a series. Click the book titles to find my thoughts on Girl of Fire and Thorns and Crown of Embers. This review does contain some spoilers if you have yet to start the series. However, these books are incredibly consistent, and reading my review for book 1, HERE will give you a great overview of the series.

The epic and deeply satisfying 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.

"Carson joins the ranks of writers like Kristin Cashore, Megan Whalen Turner, and Tamora Pierce as one of YA's best writers of high fantasy."-Locus magazine

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. Riveting, surprising, and achingly romantic, Rae Carson has spun a bold and powerful conclusion to her extraordinary trilogy.
(From Goodreads)

When I reviewed Girl of Fire and Thorns a few months ago, I said 5 things about Elisa and her story. After spending time with Elisa over three books, I wanted to go back through those same five points and update them now that her story is coming to an end. 

I love how consistently strong this series has remained, and how much the characters in it have grown, without changing what I've loved about them since the beginning. 

1) Then: Elisa is Fat
Now: Elisa is a formidable force. 
Elisa changes tremendously in this series and her looks are only a small part of that. Sure she's no longer an overweight, sedentary princess, but she's faced down enemies and heartbreak, experienced betrayal and made impossible decisions. One of my favorite aspects of the Fire and Thorns series is Elisa's personal growth and transformation. She is someone who is able to make difficult choices for the good of her kingdom, but who also isn't a robot. Elisa still feels deeply and has her own personal desires. But she knows that sometimes they aren't the most important things (thankfully, sometimes they do line up with her professional needs).

Even though Elisa has grown as a person, what hasn't changed is how much I've been impressed with her character since the beginning of the first book. From my review of book 1:  I was constantly in awe of her ability to make wise strategic decisions...She continually impressed me with her bravery, care of others and her determination to keep going no matter what she faced. At the end of the series, I can still say the same thing about her. 

2) Then: Elisa has a stone in her bellybutton. 
Now: Elisa still has a lot to learn about herself and her purpose. 
When the third book starts, Elisa is still trying to figure out her purpose, especially why she's been chosen to bear a godstone. Of course I won't tell you exactly what she discovers about that, but I love reading about Elisa's struggles with her faith and identity. Especially, how much she still has to learn about the power of her stone and about herself. Elisa's faith is complex and her struggles with it are realistic. Like anyone who has personal beliefs, not all of her questions are answered. Some information is always going to be a mystery and that makes this story more true and more powerful. 

3) Then: Elisa travels throughout the book. 
Now: Elisa's travels make her a better ruler.
The landscape Rae Carson has created and Elisa's travels throughout it, remain one of the most vivid parts of this series. Thankfully, Elisa is still exploring her world: this time it is a rescue mission into the heart of enemy territory. But it's not just the colorful settings and adventure story that has drawn me to this series (although I continue to be enthralled by that aspect). It's the people and cultures Elisa meets, and all the information that she internalizes along the way. Everything that Elisa encounters changes her a little bit and makes her a stronger ruler. She also must constantly be on alert, and rely on others during her travels (more on that below). 

Elisa's adventures also bring to light the complex political situation of her world, allowing her to understand her opponents a little bit better. What she finds is that there isn't really an evil, bad entity out there. But each side has their own goals and interests, and that makes them more complex and sometimes sympathetic. 

4) Then: Elisa Fall in Love
Now: Elisa and Hector are an amazing team. 
The power of Elisa and Hector's relationship isn't measured in romantic moments - achingly sweet as they are - but in their strength as a team, and how well they compliment and support each other. The ways that they strategize together and keep each other focused. Even though Elisa is clearly the queen, she and Hector balance each other well. But they are also willing to make hard choices, and both have bigger responsibilities than each other. Guys, the love story in this series is so good. It feels real. 

I just adore Hector. He is a fantastic male lead, and in this book he even gets his own point of view. Seeing into his mind made me love him more, but it also provided further proof at how amazingly well suited he and Elisa are for each other. Carson does a great job at showing the reader over and over again, why she paired these two. That more than swoony moments (though they are here too), makes their relationship stand out to me. 

But Elisa knows that nothing is certain, most especially the lives of those we love, and she and Hector have a lot of obstacles in the way of their happiness. 

5) Then: Elisa suffers losses.
Now: Elisa gains perspective. 
Elisa doesn't take anything for granted. She has a wisdom that only comes through loss and life experience. She knows that ruling a kingdom that is at war, means tough decisions and sacrifices - sometimes even people she loves. But Elisa is not an island either. Through her travels and struggles, she has built personal relationships with friends and advisers who are loyal to her, several of which are unlikely allies and close friend. From former traitors to enemies, I love the powerful team of support that Elisa builds in this story.

The Bitter Kingdom comes out August 27. If you have yet to start this series, now is the perfect time to do so. It is definitely counted among my favorite series of all time. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Series finale! 


  1. I agree completely, I loved the growth in this and Elisa has become such a fantastic heroine. She really has grown in every novel and HECTOR! Gosh, I just LOVED this installment. My favorite from the series for sure. :) Lovely review, Lauren!

    1. I love that Elisa has been a character that I have liked from the beginning. I have enjoyed her entire journey. And you're right. HECTOR!!! He is one of my favorite romantic leads. This is a relationship between a queen and her consort that works really well. I can see their strength together. A little different from Finn and Isaboe.

  2. Well I just skimmed this in the lightest way possible and you know that I want to read thi series. I know that it is an Asheley series and I'm really excited for it. So perhaps in July I can start it? I LOVE fantastic heroines. LOVE THEM. And I love that you love this series so much because it makes me feel better about how much I will love it. I think Heidi also loved it, and I see that Keertana also loved it. So much good love for these books it just pumps me up for them after the contemps. :)

    1. You are right. This is DEFINITELY an Asheley series. You will LOVE it so much. I cannot wait for you to read it for yourself. Definitely should be a book you read close together like you did for the Unearthly series. Cannot wait to discuss it with you.

    2. Close together. Got it. Thanks for the recommend on this one. I think you and Heidi both have told me that I'd love this one. Both solid opinions.

  3. I am not looking at this, I am not looking at this, I am not looking at this....yet:)

    Just wanted you to know how excited I am to read and discuss with you:)

    1. This book is SO GOOD! Thank you for pushing me to read it!!! Cannot wait to discuss.

  4. Oh, yes, this was such a fabulous conclusion, it left me smiling for hours after I finished it. To be honest, I'd have preferred less travel in the middle, and more time spent resolving the court issues, but what do I know? All things considered, this is one of the good ones, and we don't get those nearly often enough.
    Thanks for the lovely post.

    1. I could see that working too. I do wish we'd gotten more of her in her home, with Rosario. But the traveling was exciting! LOVED those caves they went through. You're right, I don't think enough people have taken notice at how consistently good this series is. Glad you liked it too!

  5. I hope you love this series as much as I did! Elisa's growth is just amazing to watch. But the thing is that she's never annoying. I always liked her, but even as she seems to be at the height of who she is, she's still developing as a person. I was pleasantly surprised at how much she still had to learn in this book. I will look out for when you read these.

  6. I love how you compare what you thought then with what you thought now at the conclusion of the series, Lauren. I wasn't able to get into the first book when I initially picked it up, but all the rave reviews have made me rethink my hesitation to try it again! Thanks for writing a spoiler-free review that manages to be just intriguing enough.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

    1. I hope you like this one better the second time. This is a series that I have fallen in love with. BUT it is pretty consistent throughout, so if you don't connect in the beginning, I don't know how you'll feel as it goes along. But I love Elisa's growth and the romance is written very well. I really hope that this works better for you if you try it again!

  7. I literally JUST finished Crown of Embers and I really can't wait to read The Bitter Kingdom when it comes out! I love this trilogy and the strong and complex characters Carson creates. I'm so glad the final book is consistent with the others, and I'm very excited to read from Hector's POV. Very insightful review!

    -Taylor @ Reading is the Thing

    1. THis book is SO SO SO GOOD!!! I hope you love it as much as I did. And being inside Hector's head makes him even better, which is hard to imagine. I loved getting a peak at what he's thinking, and see even more so how well suited he and Elisa are for each other. Can't wait for you to read this one!

  8. I. CAN'T. WAIT. for this book! I'm so glad that it was fantastic but I'm just dying to get my hands on this book! Absolutely amazing review, but now I'm wishing I didn't read it cause I'm ACHING to read this book!

    1. YOU. WILL. LOVE. THIS. BOOK!!!! It is soooooooooo good. I cannot wait for you to get it. HECTOR!!! ELISA!!! So much goodness in these pages.

  9. Love this series and can't wait to read this book. I have a few great July books to tackle first and then I am READY!

    You can find me here: Jen @ YA Romantics

    1. YES! One of the things I love about this series is that it is GOOD all the way through. If you enjoyed the first two, there's no way you'll dislike the third. Can't wait for you to start this one!!

  10. I love the way you did this review, Lauren! And I so agree with all of it. I loved how strong this series stayed throughout, and the fact that there was noted character growth throughout each book. Elisa's struggles with faith and as queen were so real, as was her relationship with Hector. I adored this last installment--I'm kind of a sucker for journey books, and while each book had journeying as part of it, that was the bulk of this one. I just want to hug this series for being awesome.


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