The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson. Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. 2013. Conclusion of The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy: The Girl of Fire and Thorns (book one) and The Crown of Embers (book two).
The Plot: Elisa, Godstone Bearer and Queen of Joya d’Arena, is running into the hand of her greatest enemy, the Invierne.
In Joya d’Arena, people have taken advantage of having a teeange Queen by seizing the country from her.
The Invierno, the enemy of Joya d’Arena, want Elisa — or, rather, her Godstone — and to make her come to them, they have taken Hector, Captain of the Royal Guard and the man Elisa loves.
Elisa travels with a small, trusted group: Belen, Mara, Storm (or, as Elisa describes them, “an assassin, a lady-in-waiting, and a failed sorcerer“).
All they have to do is rescue Hector; stop a war with Invierno; reclaim her throne; achieve peace for her country; and, oh, yeah — complete the act of service required by her Godstone, whatever that is.
It may be difficult; it may require sacrifice and tough choices; but this Elisa we’re talking about.
The Good: As I began The Bitter Kingdom I wondered, just how was Rae Carson going to wrap this up?
The thing to remember, of course, that this trilogy is about Elisa. It is about her journey, from protected child to strong queen. And what a journey! It is both physical — learning to fight, chasing down her enemies, running from others — and emotional. Learning to make the hard choices, including what is best for her country. And learning to find joy and happiness where she can get it.
Take Hector, her late husband’s good friend. Elisa was married to the king, a political alliance. She fell in love with a young man, and he was murdered. And now she has Hector. At the end of The Crown of Embers, Elisa had realized that marrying Hector would be a smart political move. Which means that The Bitter Kingdom includes their romance, which just gave me lots of smiles and happy.
Of course, it’s not all smiles and happy. But what is constant, for me, is the wonder that is Elisa. How strong she is, and brave. How much she has grown in three books.
As I said, this is Elisa’s story, so it is her adventure. She rescues and is rescued. She pushes herself as hard as she pushes anyone else, expects more from herself than others. She is also full of faith, and who wouldn’t be if they had evidence of God in the form of a godstone?
It is also the story of Invierno and Joya d’Arena, and their respective, battling origin myths that have led to centuries of hatred. Without giving too much away, I’ll say, I am still left with questions but in a good way. The “good way” being, I hope that Carson revisits this world, either in Elisa’s past or the future.
And, if like me, you want more, more, more now that the trilogy is over, semi-good news. There are two short e-novellas set in this world: The King’s Guard and The Shadow Cats. It’s only “semi” because that is “more” and “more” but not “more, more, more.” Yes, we readers ARE demanding.
Because The Bitter Kingdom is full of adventure. Because it has realistic politics. Because it’s about ages-old hurts that are hard to forgive and forget. Because I want to know more about the scientific and magical origins of this world. And because of Elisa. This is a Favorite Book Read in 2013.