Warning: Possible spoilers for The Girl of Fire and Thorns.
Now queen, Elisa must out-battle and outsmart enemies both in and outside of her city’s walls. She must also search for answers about the Godstone and its power. Politics, love, and action are plentiful as Elisa fights to keep her people safe.
This series. This series has bumped Rae Carson onto my must-read authors list. It takes a lot to impress me in a book these days. I don’t just want an interesting plot or a swoony romance, though those things are both great and are both found in these novels. I need to see character growth. And to be blunt, I need to see an active feminist edge. When I read a book with one or two female characters who both might as well be made of cardboard, I want to punch something. Hard. Carson’s trilogy instead made me want to hug everything. Hard.
Elisa has a character arc to rival Katsa from Kristin Cashore’s Graceling. She finds her own way sometimes with support from male and female characters, but still her realizations come primarily from herself. Even better, they have support from actual events that happen in the book. There’s no unnatural jumps in her characterization: no sudden miraculous strength. Everything she is able to do has been gained through hard work. Additionally, Elisa’s struggle with self-image has been a running theme from the beginning of the trilogy, and I think this very contemporary message is important for women of all ages who are expected to meet the unnaturally high standards of “beauty.” The end of this character-driven plot line was incredibly satisfying to me.
I was also very impressed by the connections between women in this story. The relationships between the many different women in this story are rarely 100% positive, but there is always an underlying message of respect. Ximena, Alodia, Waterfall, Mula, Mara, and so many more… there are so many wonderful female characters in this story and they have such an impact on Elisa. I could easily read novellas about all of them.
I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the romance. Elisa’s romantic interest is someone I have been cheering for since The Girl of Fire and Thorns (and I have proof that I totally wasn’t imagining the chemistry there now!!) He reminds me very much of Po from Graceling (sorry, I can’t help continuing to compare these two trilogies) or George from the Lioness Quartet in that he is a supportive supporting character. Elisa never falls second to him, and they are equals in all the ways that matter. She is above him in other ways, and with a lesser male character this would be problematic because of patriarchy and misogyny and a whole bunch of stuff I don’t feel like getting into. This character though becomes even more swoony because of his loyalty and ability to keep his ego in check. Because I loved him so much I was terrified for him every single page.
That terror is a good thing. Carson doesn’t pull any punches. She is not afraid to slit the throat of your favourite character, literally. (Too soon?) Deadly and near death experiences are frequent, especially in The Bitter Kingdom. None of the deaths felt contrived or useless, nor did I feel like Carson was creating these situations purely for the shock value. Everything felt natural.
I really can’t praise this series enough. It’s a must-read for fantasy fans. Cashore and Pierce fans, we’ve got another one!
Don’t just take my word for it!
“It is among my favorite series OF ALL TIME, and after reading THE BITTER KINGDOM, it will continue to retain a spot among my favorites.” – April @ Good Books and Good Wine
“In short, The Bitter Kingdom was an incredible book and a phenomenal conclusion to a beloved trilogy.” – Jen @ Almost Grown-Up
“If you are a fantasy reader, a fan of YA writers like Kristen Cashore and Melina Marchetta, you should definitely not miss these books.” – Jen @ YARomantics