14 August 2014

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

The champion must not waver.
The champion must not fear.
The gate of darkness closes.

Elisa is a fugitive.

Her enemies have stolen the man she loves, and they await her at the gate of darkness. Her country is on the brink of civil war, with her own soldiers ordered to kill her on sight.

Her Royal Majesty, Queen Lucero-Elisa né Riqueza de Vega, bearer of the Godstone, will lead her three loyal companions deep into the enemy's kingdom, a land of ice and snow and brutal magic, to rescue Hector and win back her throne. Her power grows with every step, and the shocking secrets she will uncover on this, her final journey, could change the course of history.

But that is not all. She has a larger destiny. She must become the champion the world has been waiting for.

Even of those who hate her most.

The name Rae Carson has, for me, become the promise of a thrilling fantasy with all the things that make fantasy a genre worth reading: a brilliant heroine, her crew of awesome friends, a world she loves and must save, and a destiny she must fulfill, all wrapped up with fluid writing and a great romance.  The conclusion to the Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy was a massive one in all respects: action, adventure, and romance especially.  Though it's sad to see the series end, it went with a bang.

Elisa is an absolutely brilliant main character who holds onto her opinions, but doesn't cleave to them because of her pride.  She gives respect and receives it.  She's smart: she recognizes her weaknesses and shores up her strengths to compensate.  She'll choose to put someone she loves in danger if she feels that's where they're needed most in order to save the most lives.  She won't keep them under her wing because she can't bear to see them hurt.  She lets them make choices of their own.  She doesn't lord over them.

The romance was brilliant for a lot of reasons.  One is that I can respect the romantic interest because he's not doing the whole "I have to keep you safe" thing out of just obligation or love, but both.  And he does it because he acknowledges Elisa's importance.  He's smart -- a lover and a fighter.  Another reason is because Elisa doesn't suffocate him.  She doesn't take his admission of love as an invitation to take his independence as well.  Also, they squabble and argue so cutely that it's impossible not to let out a little "awh" when they get that way.

The plot was crazy.  Crazy good.  There was an ebb and flow to the adventure that I typically don't see, even in fantasy.  It was as if there were three different climaxes, but they were in turn building to an even bigger climax.  So the ending was like a sucker punch to the gut.  Rae Carson doesn't just craft characters and romances beautifully, she puts care and detail and a lot of passion into the bones of the story.  She doesn't insult the audience by giving into what's expected, either.  "Oh," I can imagine her laughing, "you thought he was going to be okay?  Well let's see if he does so well when I drop him off a cliff."

Rae Carson has built a brilliant world populated with characters with minds of their own.  Each book is brimming with action and adventure, sword fights, the high seas, the sweltering desert.  The atmosphere that she has taken so much care with comes off with flawless potency so that the story stays in my head long after I've closed the cover.  The Bitter Kingdom had everything I was hoping for -- and more -- for the finale of such an epic series.

Until recently, I believed all horses were alike. They’ve been giant, four-footed animals with ugly dispositions and alarmingly large teeth for so long that it’s a bit startling to notice how different they are from each other. Mara’s mare, for instance, is a chestnut bay except for a wide white blaze down her nose that makes her seem perpetually surprised. My huge plodding mount is a dark brown near to black creature, with the most unruly mane I’ve ever seen. Her shaggy forelock covers her right eye and reaches almost to her mouth.

Mara’s mare head-butts her in the chest. Grinning, Mara plants a kiss between her wide, dumb eyes, then murmurs something.

"Have you named her?" I ask.

"Yes! Her name is Jasmine."

I grimace. "But jasmine is such a sweet, pretty flower."

Mara laughs. "Have you named yours?"

"Her name is Horse."

She rolls her eyes. "If you want to get along with your mount you have to learn each others’ languages. That means starting with a good name."

"All right." I pretend to consider. "What about Imbecile? Or Poops A Lot?"
I think sometimes when we find love we pretend it away, or ignore it, or tell ourselves we’re imagining it. Because it is the most painful kind of hope there is.
Book Info
  • pages - hardcover, 433
  • published - August 2013
  • publisher - Greenwillow Books
  • genre - fantasy
  • received via - library :)
  • rating - 5/5
  • series - The Girl of Fire and Thorns
    • The Shadow Cats (novella) | Review
    • The Girl of Fire and Thorns | Review
    • The Crown of Embers | Review
    • The Bitter Kingdom