The Bitter Kingdom (Fire and Thorns #3)

The Bitter Kingdom (Fire and Thorns #3)

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The Bitter Kingdom (Fire and Thorns #3)
Author(s)
Age Range
13+
Release Date
August 27, 2013
ISBN
0062026542
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The third book in Rae Carson's award-winning The Girl of Fire and Thorns fantasy trilogy. Elisa, the seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen, will travel into an unknown enemy's realm to win back her true love, save her kingdom, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny. Veronica Roth called The Girl of Fire and Thorns "intense, unique . . . definitely recommended."

Perfect for fans of Tamora Pierce and George R. R. Martin's style of sweeping and deeply satisfying epic fantasy, the third and final book in the trilogy takes the young queen on a journey more dangerous than any she has faced before. Elisa will stand before the gate of the enemy. And she must rise up as champion—even to those who have hated her—or her kingdom will fall. Full of sorcery, adventure, sizzling romance, and secrets that challenge everything she believes, this is a bold and powerful conclusion to an extraordinary trilogy. As USAToday.com proclaimed, "Rae Carson has proved she's a master and has shaken up the YA genre."

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Satisfying conclusion to a fantastic trilogy

The Bitter Kingdom begins with one of my favorite epic fantasy conventions: The Long Journey Into Unknown Lands. In this case, Queen Elisa and her small band of allies are traveling to the hostile territory of Invierne to rescue Hector, the Captain of the Royal Guard, and also the man who holds Elisa's heart, who was taken captive at the end of The Crown of Embers. Before they can get to Hector, Elisa and her companions must overcome both the harsh winter weather of Invierne and the mysterious, deadly magic wielded by the Inviernos. But in The Bitter Kingdom, we are treated to something we never got in the first two books: Hector's point of view. So we are able to watch as he undermines and sabotages his captors, trying to delay their plans until Elisa comes for him.

I loved how Rae Carson turned the damsel in distress trope on its head by having Elisa be the one to go after Hector. Not only was it fun to watch the queen rescue the soldier, but it evidenced Elisa's tremendous growth since the first book. She was no longer cautious and filled with self-doubt, but finally comfortable in asserting her power as Queen. But although Hector was tied up and weakened, he was not helpless either. It was fantastic to see the two of them work together to secure Hector's freedom, even though neither of them knew what the other was doing. And as expected, I still loved Hector and Elisa. Adding Hector's point of view was brilliant, and it was amazing to witness his cold strategizing coupled with his tender thoughts toward Elisa.

As far as Elisa goes, in The Bitter Kingdom we see her both at her most powerful and her most vulnerable. Just when I thought her character arc may be complete, going from a meek princess with a low self-esteem to a confident queen in control of inconceivable magic, she plummeted back down and had to claw her way up again. I thought it was a stroke of genius, because it not only kept the stakes high and her character vulnerable, but it really let us see how Elisa has grown as a person, even apart from the Godstone.

I also enjoyed the secondary characters. The cast is smaller in this book, and I missed spending time with some of my favorite characters from Crown of Embers (the most noteable being Tristán), but almost every character makes at least a cameo appearance in the second half of the book, where we get some insight into where they wind up. Meanwhile, a couple lovely new characters are added to the cast, and some familiar characters are developed further. My favorite was probably Storm, the Invierno-turned-Joyan that we meet in the second book. He evolves from someone truly unlikable when we first meet him to one of the most fascinating characters in the series. I could read an entire book (or series) just about him and his family and his conflicted loyalties.

After the Epic Journey concludes, it's up to Elisa to stop a war, unite her people, get to the bottom of the magic the Inviernos are using to conquer anyone in their path, and discover her purpose as bearer of the Godstone. It's a tall order, and Rae Carson handles it brilliantly, with lots of action and intrigue interspersed with Elisa's own personal reflection as she struggles to be the person God needs her to be. By the end of the book, I had all of my big questions answered and felt satisfied with where the others were left.

The Bitter Kingdom was everything I want in the conclusion to a trilogy: action, intrigue, smart plotting, fantastic character development, and a satisfying conclusion. I'd wholeheartedly recommend this series to fans of fantasy and adventure, or just someone looking for a masterfully crafted, well-told tale.

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Incredible

What I Loved:

I've been a huge fan of this series from the start. Elisa is such a fabulous heroine, and in THE BITTER KINGDOM, we see her fully step into her own as a woman and as a queen. Her journey from book one to book three will resonate with readers who long to see insecurities become confidence, doubts become strengths, and beauty that isn't the air-brushed skinny perfection our culture lauds be celebrated. The other characters in the series also feel fully realized, and Hector especially stands out as a hero with quiet intelligence, respectfulness, and strength that isn't intimidated by Elisa's strength. Their romance is a slow-burning treat that culminates in an absolutely beautiful ceremony in THE BITTER KINGDOM.

The world building is also quite well done. The reader has the sense of a huge world with various adjoining kingdoms, each with their own culture, politics, traditions, and physical appearances. From the sensory details included in Elisa's journey through each kingdom to the fully developed theological system that governs Elisa's life, the world feels as real to the reader as that of Tolkien or Lewis.

The plot arcs are handled with a deftness that few series accomplish. Elisa's personal journey from insecure, overweight, overlooked princess to a queen who is absolutely confident in her decisions, her intelligence, and that her beauty is worth celebrating is expertly woven against a backdrop of court politics, racial prejudice, prophecies, civil war, and betrayal. After reading all three books, this reader feels fully satisfied in the plot, the characters, the romance, and the underlying message that our worth isn't tied to what others think of us.

What Left Me Wanting More:

Nothing. I feel absolutely satisfied in every way with this trilogy, and indeed would love to see a spin-off with two of the minor characters.

Final Verdict:

Accomplished writing, stellar world building, and a heroine unlike any other make this entire series a must-read.

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Overall rating 
 
4.0
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My Favorite of the Series

What I Loved:
Though I do love romance in books, it's not often what makes a book for me. Generally, I would say I love the characters first and the romance between them second. In the Fire and Thorns series, the romance comes first. The arc of this relationship gets a full five star fanfare of cellos and unicorn whinnies, okay? (I'm just going to assume that would sound awesome. Roll with it, yo.) Hector and Elisa go from having no real romantic attachment in book one (note that this is the book I didn't like), but with a nice solid foundation of respect and mutual admiration, to love and impending marriage in The Bitter Kingdom. They do so slowly and with quite a bit of swoon.

The ending scenes of this book almost made me happy cry, something I do much more easily than sad cry. Attending weddings of friends, I find a lot of the trappings of them quite sexist and unappealing. Carson's series is, I think, at its most beautiful and woman power-y right there at the end in a traditionally patriarchy-dominated ceremony. Hector loves that Elisa is powerful, and is man enough not to feel challenged by that, and just so much yes to all of that.

One of the key selling points of Fire and Thorns is Elisa's weight. There aren't many novels about non-skinny heroines, and even less so in the fantasy genre. Now, Elisa does lose a good deal of weight over the course of book one while tramping about in the desert. This did concern me a bit, especially since the romantic interest in her really kicks up at that juncture. However, now that it's done, I'm really happy with the portrayal of weight in the series. Elisa never gets thin or reaches her society's standard of beauty, which is slim like our society currently holds up as ideal. Elisa will always be curvy or even overweight. Hector finds her very sexually attractive, and that's fantastic. What really makes the portrayal of Elisa's weight issues so powerful, though, is that Elisa herself comes to love her own body and to stop yearning to be someone else with a different body type. The reason people are beautiful is their uniqueness, and Elisa's road to self-love has been long and bumpy, but she made it and I think I finally like her as well.

The Bitter Kingdom also spends much less time on the religion elements which made me so batty in book one. While I know this worked for some, I found the fact that it was basically relabeled Christianity both lazy and preachy. By The Bitter Kingdom, Elisa has no real idea what the deal is with god. She still prays and believes somewhat, but she's questioning. She no longer has that certainty that her way is right and is really seeking knowledge. Where before the series came off as dealing with religion, The Bitter Kingdom takes a much more theological angle, which I love. Fun fact: I minored in theology.

So far as the cast goes, this is one of those rare books where I feel things but don't really identify with the heroine. Though I do have some commonalities with Elisa, we have never been able to bond. I respect her now and admire her, but we would never be best friends (maybe because I'm plotting her death to steal Hector? - kidding...mostly). Hector is everything fabulous, and other YA love interests should learn from him. He walks the line between protective and trusting perfectly. There's a place for protecting your lady and a time to step back and let her get shit done, and he knows when to do which thing. My favorite characters are Mara and Belen, and they are both just the cutest. The Bitter Kingdom gave me a couple of new ships, and I actually would really like another book set in this world about one of them. *coughs* (Who would have thought, right?) I'm a little disappointed that Rosario basically didn't show up in this book, since the little prince is kind of important, but oh well. (I'm asking for more moppet? What has this book done to me and my values?) Oh also, Red is an incredibly adorable moppet as well, and, yeah, she's the best, even if her name is straight up My Little Pony.

The plot of The Bitter Kingdom meanders a little bit. There's a lot of journeying to one place and then hearing about a thing and needing to go somewhere else and OH HEY a plot point. It's not a huge issue, but I also wasn't really all that concerned about the plot overall. You basically know what the endgame is and ride that train all the way around the theme park until it gets to the final stop. There was one part that was straight out of Lord of the Rings basically, which was a little bit ridiculous to me, but, again, not a major problem for me either. Carson also took things a bit easily, with Lord of the Rings being a good comparison actually. The stakes are always really high, but she's not merciless to her characters, which I know some people love but I like knowing that anything could happen at any time.

What Left Me Wanting More (WHICH HAS SOME SPOILERS SO BE CAREFUL):
Only one aspect of The Bitter Kingdom seriously irked me. To explain it, I will have to delve into SPOILERS in this section, so stop here if you do not want to know, mmkay? In The Bitter Kingdom, Carson throws in this huge world building twist, but doesn't really address it. She just throws it out there like it's no big deal and I'm like WHUT. Anyway, Elisa and company learn that if an Invierno mates with a Joyan, their offspring will be unable to reproduce. These offspring are referred to as mules.

Now, I seriously suck at science, but this immediately set off serious warning bells, because the reason mules, the product of horse and donkey sex, cannot reproduce is because they come from two disparate, if similar, species. Considering all of the racial themes in the series, this made me really uncomfortable, especially since the word mulatto, came from the same root word of mule. Now, it turns out the Joyans actually came to the planet and colonized it much like the Europeans came into the Americas, so they are actually not the same creatures, but I still feel like this is some really messy, sensitive subject matter to throw into book three. I especially do not feel like enough world building was put into this, since apparently one or the other of them is not human but alien. This begs so many questions. It's a pretty cool twist, but leaves me feeling hyper-curious and not entirely satisfied with the world building.

The audiobook versions of this series have been marvelous. Jennifer Ikeda does a fabulous job with the different characters all the way through. I'm not as thrilled with the casting of Hector, who sounds a bit too much like Kevin Spacey for any guy as sexy and hispanic as Hector is in my head. Still, he doesn't do a bad job. I'm also not entirely sure Hector's POV was necessary in The Bitter Kingdom, but whatever.

The Final Verdict:
Rae Carson's Fire and Thorns series is one that I do think is well worth reading, even if it has always been varying degrees of problematic for me personally. The series gets better as it goes along, and features one of the best and healthiest romantic relationships.

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Overall rating 
 
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Very Good

This last book in the series was a good book to finish it. I was surprised at where the plot went and the book kept me guessing. I liked the action and the larger presence the Inviernos had in this book and the additon of a few key characters. The pace was a little slow but what it lacked in pace it made up for in unpredictability in plot. Elisa was more confident in her abilities in this book and with Storm, she was able to do what she needed to do. I liked the split povs in this book and I liked how Hector played a more personal role in this third installment. I loved the ending and thought that the ending was great. This third book was my favorite out of the three and I thought The Girl of Fire and Thorns series was a good fantasy series.

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Thank God I won an ARC!

It's over... This has turned into one of my fave series in the YA world.

I love Elisa!!!

Good Points
Okay... Taking my time to let it sink in that this is it for me and my girl Elisa (and Hector too *rawr*)


The ending in The Crown of Embers was a heartbreaking cliffhanger. (Still haven't forgiving Rae Carson over that, let alone forgotten about Humberto in The Girl of Fire and Thorns) *I still find myself mourning over him a year later...

We meet up with our girl on her journey to come through on what she promised Hector, don't know? Go read the 2nd book. Does she succeed? What happens? Who dies? Is there a happy ending? Well I'm going to bust a dick move and not spoil anything or talk about anything that happened in the book.

This was the perfect ending to an amazing series. She wrapped it up nicely and yes I shed a tear once or twice.

Wouldn't mind a little novella a few years down the road to see how my girl Elisa is doing.

*You hear that Rae Carson!

Do yourself a favor and go check this series out!!!
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