Review: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

The Bitter Kingdom
Rae Carson

Greenwillow Books
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
Released August 27, 2013
448 pages
YA / Fantasy

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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.

I’ve had an up and down relationship with Rae Carson’s Fire and Thorns trilogy. The first book was a middle of the road fantasy adventure novel with a ridiculous ending that almost made me quit the entire series. The second book swept me away and refused to put me back down. So how was the third book going to fit into the mix? Would it revert back to the moderately entertaining first book or grab me by the shirt collar and take me on a crazy ride?

It landed in the middle. It’s a satisfying conclusion to the series and all the ends get tied up in interesting ways. I didn’t call all the twists and turns, and the cliff hanger of the second book was resolved much more quickly than I expected. It did have that same lagging feeling at times from the first book where the characters are walking and walking and walking and Elisa is having the same sort of thoughts over and over again, but overall I really enjoyed this final book.

SPOILERS FOR GIRL OF FIRE & THORNS AND CROWN OF EMBERS

The previous book ended with a civil war brewing in Elisa’s kingdom after her husband, the king, died in the first book and a few of her advisors wanted to take over ruling from the silly little girl left in charge. Meanwhile the bad guys from the other side of the mountains stole Hector, Elisa’s primary body guard who she loves desperately. Elisa and Storm had found the source of their magical godstone’s powers and by freeing Storm from being the caretaker of the source, Elisa basically turned the entire island into a pile of rubble. Since the experience, her magic has been growing increasingly more volatile and stronger.

When The Bitter Kingdom opens, a little bit of time has gone by and Elisa is on a trek to save Hector, make a deal with the bad guys to save her kingdom and then storm her city to fight the hostile takeover of her crown. She has a lot on her plate at 17-years-old, but since it’s a YA book, love comes first and Hector must be saved. Luckily this isn’t dragged out for half the book or more like I’d predicted. It’s wrapped up pretty nicely with a couple of chapters from Hector’s POV for info dump purposes. The rescue is interspersed with training scenes where Storm and Elisa throw fire at the mountains to gain some sense of control over their power, and somewhere along the way they pick up a mixed race slave girl from an abusive inn keeper.

I enjoyed seeing Invierne, the home base of Elisa’s mortal enemies, only to find that these people are just like her people, only they live in the mountains and have more experience with magic. Even though Elisa only interacts with a few Inviernos besides Storm, it was nice to get a better picture of who the people were that have been attacking her from the beginning of the series. It forced Elisa to fully embrace her strength and not just with her magic.

Honestly Storm made this book for me and I wish he’d been better featured. His snark and his slow learning of the social cues from Elisa and her companions were highly entertaining. He had a lot of conflict within that was explored to a point, but it would have been nice to have more of him. Then again he’s my favorite character, so of course I want more of him.

I don’t have much else to say about this book. It ties up the series nicely. Some bit players reappear and the climax of the story is somewhat exciting, though I wasn’t glued to the book to know what happened next. It had a particular silly plot point involving the godstone, though it wasn’t nearly as groanable as the pinwheel in the belly button thing from book 1. I’m not going to become an avid cheerleader for the series, but I can definitely see why so many people love this series and it’s a good venture into magical fantasy for those who might be leery of the genre.

 

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.