Saturday 5 October 2013

#CBR5 Book 123. "The Bitter Kingdom" by Rae Carson

Page count: 448 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is the third and final book in the Fire and Thorns trilogy, and as such, it's not where you want to start reading the series. The first book, The Girl of Fire and Thorns is the place to begin. This review will inevitably contain spoilers for the previous two books in the series, and will also, in part, be my review of the series as a whole.

The Bitter Kingdom starts where The Crown of Embers ended, with young queen regent Elisa's kingdom on the brink of civil war, and her Captain of the Guard (and the man she'd finally admitted that she loved and decided to marry) taken hostage by soldiers from neighbouring Invierno, who want the Godstone in her belly and are using Hector as bait to get her to follow them into their country. Accompanied by only a former freedom fighter/assassin, her lady in waiting and a failed Invierno sorcerer, Elisa needs to catch up with the soldiers, rescue Hector, figure out what is actually going on with the Invierno sorcerers, and find a way to defeat the rebellious nobles who are trying to destabilise her country and usurp her throne.

When the trilogy starts, Elisa is sixteen, chubby, innocent, naive, pampered and has lived an extremely sheltered life. In one year she is married off to ensure a political alliance, kidnapped by rebels, becomes a guerrilla freedom fighter, falls in love, sees her beloved killed in front of her, is widowed, becomes Queen Regent for her young stepson, has to fight off hordes of pesky suitors, has to try to stem the civil unrest in her country, go on a quest to a possibly mythical, magic location, locate said location, and deal with the betrayal of a long-time family retainer. Then she decides to mount an invasion and rescue mission aided by only three others, all the while knowing that she may be losing her throne to a deceitful member of her Royal Council.

She's come a very long way, and changed a huge amount over the course of the year the books are set over. Because everyone around her tried to keep her ignorant and sheltered, she's become fiercely determined not to be kept in the dark, and does all she can to educate herself about her unusual situation. While completely inexperienced at ruling at first, she develops into a good scholar, skilled tactician, brave fighter, affectionate stepmother, beloved regent, shrewd negotiator and loyal and steadfast friend. Above all, over the course of the trilogy, we see these things happen gradually. Elisa is by no means a Mary Sue who starts out perfect and talented and beloved by all. She goes though a number of hardships and is tempered by them, emerging stronger with each new challenge. She's a good role model for young readers, both male and female. She doesn't wait around for others to solve her problems, or rescue her. She saves herself and those she loves, willing to risk her own life for others.

The supporting cast is well fleshed out, with a number of entertaining individuals with strong personalities and lives of their own. The world building is also done well, with the aspects of each new society slowly revealed with a number of nuances, so that even the initially evil and ruthless-seeming Invierno being shown as just another different culture with good motivations for their hostile actions. The various religious beliefs and the accompanying magic systems are also really fascinating. The Bitter Kingdom is a good and satisfying ending to the trilogy, and I can't wait to go back and re-read all three books as a completed whole.

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