28 January 2013

The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

In the sequel to the acclaimed The Girl of Fire and Thorns, a seventeen-year-old princess turned war queen faces sorcery, adventure, untold power, and romance as she fulfills her epic destiny.

Elisa is the hero of her country. She led her people to victory against a terrifying enemy, and now she is their queen. But she is only seventeen years old. Her rivals may have simply retreated, choosing stealth over battle. And no one within her court trusts her--except Hector, the commander of the royal guard, and her companions. As the country begins to crumble beneath her and her enemies emerge from the shadows, Elisa will take another journey. With a one-eyed warrior, a loyal friend, an enemy defector, and the man she is falling in love with, Elisa crosses the ocean in search of the perilous, uncharted, and mythical source of the Godstone's power. That is not all she finds. A breathtaking, romantic, and dangerous second volume in the Fire and Thorns trilogy.

In one word: incredible.  While only a single scene of Girl of Fire and Thorns stayed perfectly clear in my memory, I have a feeling that most of Crown of Embers will become ingrained in my mind for years.  Rae Carson's quick but thorough writing style brings the romance sparkling to the surface, the world to life, and the action to a heart-racing climax.  This was a fantastic second installment in the Fire and Thorns series -- I am completely primed for the third book.

I think my favorite thing about this book was Elisa's character.  She's endearing in the way that she knows her weaknesses and she doesn't let them rule her -- she tries to shore up her strengths and, most importantly, tries not to let down the people she cares about.  (Though there are some notable exceptions to that generality, of course.)  I liked her humor and her will to press on no matter what, even if that tremendous willpower nearly got her killed a time or two (or five).  Her stubbornness, rather than being irritating, was something I admired about her, because while she was hard-headed, she wasn't stupid.  That, paired with her huge heart, made her a great main character.

Rae Carson crafts not only excellent characters, but a thrilling plot.  From page one, I was hooked into a story chockfull of slanderous generals, city riots, assassination attempts, and Godstone mysteries.  I read the first three hundred pages in one day; I was so into the story that I couldn't pull myself out of it for long.  I liked how the story's plot made sense: I didn't have to take her for her word or give her the benefit of the doubt.  I understood the stakes, I understood the goals and complications.  By the time I got to the climax, I was buzzing with energy from "what's going to happen next?"  Having finished it, I'm sorry I went through it so quickly.

What else Carson does well: world building.  Similar to that of Tamora Pierce's universes, Rae Carson's world is one that I wouldn't mind getting transported into.  (But only if I can get a run at Hector.)  I loved the breadth of the geography.  The transition from desert to green, rolling hills and sparkling seas gave detail and depth to the world that made it pop off the page for me.

All of this -- the characters, the plot, the world -- its magic was made possible by the simple yet elegant writing style.  I loved how Rae Carson made use of every word, how nothing was wasted.  Her style phrased things in a way I had never considered.  It was straightforward and magical.  It fit the story well; it made reading enjoyment that much easier to find.

Rae Carson is what I would call a master of the novel trifecta: she brings together characters, plot and world building to create a wonderful, magical story.

"A quarterstaff is not very subtle. Or handy. If an kidnapper comes at me, what am I supposed to do? Say, 'Excuse me, my lord, while I pull my enormous quarterstaff out of my bodice?'"
"You made me cut and dye my hair."

Surely he understands that we face greater problems? "I thought it would greatly improve your looks," I snap.

"Shorn hair is a sign of shame. You humiliate me greatly."

"I’ll light a candle tonight in honor of your dead tresses."

Book Info
  • pages - hardcover, 410
  • published - September 2012
  • publisher - Greenwillow
  • genre - fantasy
  • received via - library :)
  • rating - 5/5
  • series - Fire and Thorns
    • The Shadow Cats (novella) | Review
    • The Girl of Fire and Thorns | Review
    • The Crown of Embers
    • The Bitter Kingdom