Back in April, as part of the YALSA Best of the Best Reading Challenge, I read Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns and absolutely loved it. I wrote a short response to it as part of my Challenge Week 4 Update post, but never got around to writing a full review. I have, however, praised it and highly recommended it at every opportunity. I just finished reading The Crown of Embers, and I loved it every bit as much as the first book! So I’m going to make amends for failing to review The Girl of Fire and Thorns by reviewing this one.
At the beginning of The Crown of Embers, Elisa is a hero, having saved the country from the invading army, and Queen in her own right. But she struggles to maintain her power and authority. Her advisers seem to be trying to undermine her, and she lacks the confidence to stand up to them. After all, she is only 17 and an outsider, the foreign bride of a weak king. Her advisers are pushing her to remarry quickly, though she has barely finished the mourning period for her first husband. Even worse, someone is trying to kill her. In an effort to gain fuller access to the power of her Godstone and to escape the danger in her own palace, Elisa sets off on a perilous journey.
Why do I love these books so much? First, Carson has built a complex and believable world. But more than that, Carson has created a heroine who is a real person. In The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Elisa is grossly overweight, insecure, and prone to binge eating for emotional comfort. Over the course of her struggles in that book, she takes control of her life, including her eating. She comes to terms with the fact that she is never going to have a body that matches the stereotypical ideal of super-thin beauty and she’s OK with that. In The Crown of Embers, she comes to believe that she really is beautiful and desirable – as she is. What a great message!
Elisa is a smart and capable heroine struggling to find her self-confidence. She does not depend on a dashing and handsome man to rescue her. She figures out how to solve problems and regularly demonstrates real-life competence. If only she could apply the confidence she has in more limited situations to her ability to govern a kingdom. This book is a story of her pilgrimage to find the source of power for her Godstone. But it is also the story of a young woman learning just how much she is capable of doing, of how strong she really is.
I can’t talk about this book without touching on the love interest. I don’t think that I’m giving too much away when I say that she gradually finds herself falling for the Captain of her Guard, Hector. It was pretty obvious at the end of the first book that it was coming. But this is not a case of an otherwise intelligent girl going ga-ga for the handsome bad guy and losing all of her brains in the process. No, this is an emotion growing out of mutual respect and friendship. They do allow circumstances and outside expectations to constrain how they approach this relationship. Neither is willing to discuss their feeling because of the Queen to Guard relationship already in place. That, of course, sets the scene for conflict and unnecessary misunderstandings. What I found interesting was the description of their efforts to get around the problems created by her position of absolute power over him and the impact that has on their desire for a relationship that is a true partnership.
If you enjoy fantasy, you must add these books to your To-Read List! If you like books with strong heroines who are realistic role models, you need to read these books. If you enjoy a good story with complex, interesting characters and a well-crafted setting, read these books! If you’re beginning to sense a trend, you’re right. I strongly recommend these books and cannot wait for the final installment in the trilogy and for Rae Carson’s next series!