Author: Rae Carson
Published: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Series: Fire and Thorns #3
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Rating: 5 stars
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*Warning: This book review contains spoilers for The Girl of Fire and Thorns and The Crown of Embers*
“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.”My Thoughts
― Rae Carson, The Bitter Kingdom
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. (Goodreads)
It’s been over a week since I finished The Bitter Kingdom, and this enchanting story still possesses me, sinking its claws in and refusing to let me forget a single page, a single word. I knew Rae Carson was a more than capable writer, but I still worried that the final book in this beloved trilogy would disappoint, as other final installments have unfortunately done this summer. Yet my worries were entirely unfounded, as The Bitter Kingdom was everything I could possibly want for a conclusion and so much more, leaving me deeply satisfied while at the same time devastated that a favorite series had ended.
The Bitter Kingdom sets a breakneck pace right from the beginning. At the start, we are taken on a risk-filled journey, following in the footsteps of our protagonist Elisa, the only bearer of a living Godstone and the young queen of Joya d’Arena, and her three companions. Elisa is on a mission to rescue Hector, and I could barely stomach the fear I felt for him, having already seen one lover killed in this series. But while Elisa is concerned for Hector, this is so much more than a love story. Not only Hector’s life is at stake, but the safety of Elisa’s entire country and the neighboring regions rides on the success of Elisa’s quest.
At the start of The Girl of Fire and Thorns, I was unsure about Elisa, and I worried that I would never sympathize with her or relate to her struggles. Yet these concerns all melted away later on in The Girl of Fire and Thorns and in The Crown of Embers, as I bore witness to her ever-growing maturity, confidence and compassion. The more she endured, the tougher she emerged, and all of her insecurities and vulnerabilities seemed to fade away to nothing. Watching Elisa grow as a bearer, as a queen and as a woman was so rewarding, and I couldn’t help rooting for her every step of the way. What makes Elisa such a powerful leader and a strong individual is her willingness to sacrifice everything for the good of her people, and for the safety of her loved ones. She is far from fearless, but what makes her stand out is her ability to face what may seem to be insurmountable odds and still persevere because she refuses to give in. A smile tugged at my lips every time Elisa said, “I have a plan,” because I admired her fortitude, and I believed in her enough to know she’d save the day, even if she had to risk her life to do so.
Besides an awe-inspiring protagonist, The Bitter Kingdom offers secondary characters that will bring tears to your eyes, characters that will linger in your memory long after you have closed this book. I loved each and every one of Elisa’s companions, as they bring such varied and complex personalities to the table, and every one of them is loyal to the death. Their individual development may occasionally fall to the wayside in favor of a fast-paced, adventure-filled story and explorative journey, but they are never forgotten and each of them adds depth to this tale. They push Elisa as they also support her in all of her endeavors, sticking by her side as trustworthy companions, confidantes and devoted followers. Among my favorites, Storm and Mula (aka Red and a new addition to the story) had me emotionally invested in this story, adoring both of these characters and enjoying every snippet of conversation or entertaining scene they offered.
Despite my earlier declaration that The Bitter Kingdom is not solely a romance, I cannot forget to mention a love story that had my heart pounding and my stomach all aflutter with butterflies in The Crown of Embers. I was beyond excited to see Hector and Elisa reunited, since the ending of The Crown of Embers just tore me apart and had me begging for the final book. The romance is wonderfully done, as we are given just enough details to leave us perfectly content and not so many that the romance would overshadow the main plot line. The political intrigue of the previous books is still present, and friendships and alliances are all still explored. But all the while, in the background ever-present, is this lovely romance that left me with a stupid smile plastered on my face.
As you can tell, The Bitter Kingdom was a winner for me. Rae Carson has pulled off an impressive finale that is proof of her genius, and I will read anything else she writes in the future. Watching a favorite series come to an end is never easy, but I’m happy I can close The Bitter Kingdom with a sigh of contentment and the knowledge that I can always return to this series in the future and rediscover this magical world all over again.