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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
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Review: The Crown of Embers

The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson. Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. 2012. Sequel to The Girl of Fire and Thorns.

The Plot: Elisa, 17, is the Queen of Joya d’Arena following the death of her husband, the King. Her stepson, the Prince, is too young to reign.

Being a Queen isn’t easy:  she may bear the Godstone, have access to its power, have led the desert rebels and defeated the armies of the Invierne, but to her Quorum of advisers she is just a young girl, not a ruler. Assassination attempts reveal she has enemies but who are they? The Invierne? Or someone who wants her throne?

Elisa has the Godstone but isn’t quite sure how to use it. When she learns an ancient secret about the Godstone, she decides to risk everything to capture that power to lead her country. What will be the cost?

The Good: First things first: if you haven’t read The Girl of Fire and Thorns, please, do so. It’s necessary to understand where Elisa is now, how she became such a young queen, the different countries, the relationships between the people around her.

For those who have read the first book and are wondering about the second – yes, so good! If the first book was about Elisa growing up and gaining maturity, the second is about Elisa no longer being a girl and becoming a woman and Queen. “Becoming” is the key part; it’s not an easy path. It’s not about age or even about what she’s accomplished. It’s about Elisa taking responsibility: for what she has done and what she has not done, as both a queen and a woman.

Elisa is a queen, first. Carson writes about the reality of ruling, not the fairy tale. Crowns are heavy and uncomfortable. There is little or no overlap between what is best for the country, best for the Queen, and what is best for Elisa. Not only that, but as Elisa observes at one point, “being a queen means being strategic.” Elisa is pretty good at being strategic, but it’s still a learning process for her because there is nothing done without a cost. She may have been able to lead a group of close-knit rebels with one common goal, but ruling a country? With diverse interests? Who don’t know her? Such a different story. What strategies to follow? What is the right step? What is the least wrong step? Who can she trust?

Also: so much action! Assassination attempts and palace intrigue, an adventure in the desert, a ship, romance — well, I won’t give too much away.

One last thing: the last chapter. For what happens, what is revealed, and what is set up for the next book –it’s almost perfect. Why only “almost”? Because of the unbearable pleasure of having to wait for the next book. I particular liked what Carson didn’t tell the reader, what I – like Elisa – figured out on my own.

Yes, it’s a Favorite Book Read in 2012, because I just adore Elisa. (Though I have to say, I wish for a different cover. Elisa is brown skinned with brown hair, and I realize the cover is showing Elisa reflected in a gemstone, but, still.) I loved that this is a look at a “real” Queen, not a figure head or a “happy ever after” fairy tale. I loved that it’s about politics and trust as well as adventure and courage. I loved that not only is Elisa smart, but Carson expects me to be smart, also. I loved how this continues to be about Elisa becoming herself, growing into her own power and strength. And I love that I cannot guess where it will go.

Other reviews: Poetry to Prose; Leila Roy at Kirkus; Mimosa Stimulus review.

About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is


  1. YES! To everything in that last paragraph. Well said.

  2. I’m so excited to read this, but I’m wondering how important it is to have the first book fresh in my mind. I read it when it came out, and I remember the basics, but not all the nuances and who’s who type stuff. Reread first or charge ahead?

  3. I am taking my time reading this one because I don’t want it to end. I agree about the cover. Too pretty and damsel-in-distress-ish.

  4. Just as soon as I finish Cybils reading, I’m going to reread Girl of Fire and Thorns, then read this one, then read The FitzOsbornes at War. I hope my list doesn’t grow between now and then!

    O, Laini Taylor’s sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone is up, too. And I want to read Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell. Aaaugh! The list just keeps growing! Actually, I kind of like this Cybils reading (MG SFF), because I’m forced to focus my reading, and it makes deciding what to read next much easier! But I think maybe I shouldn’t read your blog for awhile….

  5. Brandy, thanks!

    Jess, it did pretty much plunge into the action. What I did was read my review and reread my notes from when I read the first book, and that seemed to work well enough to remember who was who.

    Jean, the only problem with finishing this book is the wait for the second!

    Sondy, so many great books to read!