The Bitter Kingdom: Girl of Fire and Thorns, #3 -- Rae Carson
It's a fabulous conclusion to a fabulous trilogy, and if you haven't read them yet, I'm super jealous, because now you can sit down and read all three of them in a row WITHOUT HAVING TO WAIT A WHOLE YEAR BETWEEN EACH INSTALLMENT.
If you're a fan of epic fantasy a la Robin McKinley's Damar books and Kristin Cashore's Seven Kingdoms books—stories that have fabulous world-building complete with fully-realized cultures, religious traditions, and political systems; strong heroines who see more than their fair share of combat, are forced to brave the elements and travel long distances over deadly terrain, who have to learn to look past their own insecurities and see themselves as others do: as leaders—then you absolutely should not miss Rae Carson's books.
If you haven't read them, go! Read! Enjoy!
Vague spoilers about the first two will follow.
The Bitter Kingdom begins shortly after the brutal Empire Strikes Back ending of Crown of Embers. As she promised, Elisa is on her way to rescue Hector from his captors. Her team is comprised of, as she describes them, "an assassin, a lady-in-waiting, and a failed sorcerer". Don't let her fool you, though: her companions are infinitely capable, and while they don't necessarily all trust EACH OTHER, they all trust HER, and she trusts all of THEM.
The book has all of the same strengths as its predecessors: the character development, the plotting, the action, the romance, the complex politics and personal motivations of each character, the strength that Elisa derives from her own faith as well as her ability to accept and appreciate the various religious beliefs of other people. We've seen Elisa mature from a self-loathing, insecure, seemingly useless princess into a capable, canny, tough queen. She's got a leader's ability to see the Big Picture in any given situation, but she's also retained her empathy and sense of ethics. She's sacrificed a lot to keep her country together, to protect her people—not just the ones she knows and loves personally, but ALL of her subjects—and she's perfectly willing to sacrifice more.
It's easy to see why and how she inspires those who follow her.
Generally, I have a hard time with the idea of Fate. On one hand, it's a satisfying concept—especially if one is fated to do heroic things and have a happy ending—but on the other, it makes me want to shake my tiny fist at the sky and yell, YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME, BUSTER! Carson, though, deals with it so outstandingly well throughout the series that I just wished all of my dumb philosophical issues off into the cornfield and fully immersed myself in her world: As the bearer of a Living Godstone, Elisa is Fated to perform a specific service to God. She doesn't know what that service is—and there certainly have been bearers in the past who have failed—and without giving it all away, I just want to say that I LOVED how it all played out.
LOVED. Hopefully, some of you will have already read it, so we can do some spoilery gushing in the comments, because OH MY GOD, THE LOVE I HAVE FOR THAT ASPECT OF THE BOOK.
I loved that, as in Buffy, the existence of a support network—of friends—makes all the difference, and I loved Storm's arc, and I loved that amidst the drama and the politics and the action and the seriousness, that there was a healthy dose of humor, too. I loved seeing, over the course of the series, how Elisa's body image issues morphed from her desire for skinny thighs to her appreciation for her own strength. And, of course, I loved her descriptions of food.
And also, HECTOR, HECTOR, HECTOR, YOU DREAMBOAT.
Right, I forgot. I wasn't going to do any gushing here.
BUT I'M MAKING NO PROMISES ABOUT THE COMMENTS SECTION.
Book source: Review copy from a friend.