If you haven't read them, you should definitely start with The Girl of Fire and Thorns and Crown of Embers, the first two books in the trilogy. I did a review of the first book HERE if you're curious.
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Girl of Fire and Thorns
If you haven't read the first two books there will be spoilers for them, but I will do my best not to spoil the third book as I give you the 10 things I loved about The Bitter Kingdom:
- Elisa: She is a strong, flawed, thoughtful, REAL heroine. In the first book, when we are introduced to her, she has an issue with her weight and is bordering on an eating disorder. Although she grows through the series she doesn't magically become skinny and model-"gorgeous." She is still plump. She is still a little bit obsessed with food. But she is much more comfortable with who she is and how she looks. I really appreciate that this is an aspect of her character without taking over her whole personality. This is only one small facet of her entire personality - there is so much more to her, but it is so rare to find in YA novels that I had to point it out.
- Religion: I mentioned this in my review of the first book, but I really appreciate that the world Carson builds includes religion. This is another aspect that is nearly always left out of YA novels. Religion, belief - these things are a big part of most cultures and societies. So when it's left completely out, there is always something vaguely lacking to me. I like the way that Carson integrates it into the culture, but also lets Elisa struggle with her beliefs and work through doubts, questions, and other things that arise in connection to her godstone and the complicated things she comes in contact with.
- Hector: This book gave us some chapters from his perspective, but I liked the fact that Carson didn't feel obligated to make the two parts equal. We only see Hector when he isn't with Elisa and it works really well. It could easily have felt fragmented, but it was a good way to show the reader what they needed to know that Elisa didn't see without slipping into 3rd person or some other narrative device. But other than the narration, it was nice to see more of who Hector is and the way he truly respects Elisa's intelligence and abilities.
- Mula: Oh. My. Werd. My favorite ever. I loved every scene she was in. I wanted more and more of her. I want a sequel following Mula's adventures. She is adorable and loyal and smart and will steal your heart.
- Politics: Just like with the inclusion of religion, I liked the way Carson included the complicated political aspects of Elisa's world. Elisa is a princess who marries a king who then dies, leaving her the ruler of a strange country. She has a sister who is a queen. She has friends who are ambassadors and connected to other kingdoms. This all gets really complicated. It HAS to be complicated because that is the way that inter-country relations are. And Carson doesn't shy away from that. There are no easy answers and people change allegiances, fight back, negotiate, and just generally interact with each other with the confusion that comes out of very different cultures coming into contact with each other.
- Worldbuilding: Throughout the trilogy Carson does a wonderful job of grounding us in the world. It has a middle eastern feel to it, something I appreciated as a change from the typical european/angl-saxon fantasy world. You completely believe in the world, understand how it works, and Carson weaves in so many details that make it live without inundating you.
- No one is safe: I know this sounds weird, but I liked the fact that Carson was willing to let people die if it was necessary to the story. And while there were a couple of deaths (and near misses) that I was very sad about, there weren't any that felt like they were included just for shock value. Everything seemed completely purposeful and fitting to the story being told.
- "I Have an Idea": This becomes Elisa's catch phrase and it started bringing a grin to my face every time she said it. Elisa realizes she has weaknesses and flaws, but the one thing she can do is think and plan. And, especially in the third book, she realizes that this is her strength. Her plotting and scheming is what can and has saved her and the people around her. She embraces her intelligence and uses it wisely. Yeah for library power!
- Happy Ending: There is one! Yeah! While the trilogy is certainly not a romance, it does include romance and I was so thrilled to see Elisa get her happily ever after.
- But not done: Yet, even though there is a certain amount of ending, there are also quite a few loose ends and challenges that aren't quite finished. I mentioned this in my review of Ignite Me, but I like when an author ties up the story arc, but leaves the characters to continue living, even if it's just in our imaginations.