It would be a mistake to call the novel a romance in the sense that there's a great deal more going on than passionate glances and fervent kisses and the like. Elisa has inherited a kingdom ravaged by war, desperately poor, and politically unstable. She is raising a young prince, entertaining suitors, and uncovering the truth behind obscure prophecies that seem to center directly around her. There are daggers and arrows, assassins and desert caravans, and ships traversing stormy seas. And let's not forget magic. In short, this book is epic.
But it is true that the most powerful story you're left with at the closing of the final page is the heady passion between Elisa and the man she loves, as their friendship matures each step of the journey. Second books often suffer from lack of narrative, serving as a bridge from the opening story in book one to its conclusion in book three. It's the love story that keeps The Crown of Embers together, unifying each disparate plot twist with one steadily growing theme.
Beyond that, Elisa herself is a character you want to stay with through anything and everything. She's a flawed character, but so very strong. Her strength is in her intelligence and her courage. But she is not afraid to rely on those she trusts. She's a good example of love allowing you to be vulnerable without making you weak. Nothing about this series is moralizing, but I cannot help but feel like a reader could learn a great deal from these characters about wisdom, courage, and power - the very things Elisa asks for in the sacrament of pain, the lessons she herself takes from her own experiences.
You must know before you begin that the series does not end here. Much more than with the first book, The Crown of Embers concludes with a serious cliffhanger. You'll be aching for book three. So much happens between Elisa's marriage to Alejandro in the opening pages of The Girl of Fire and Thorns and the final scene of The Crown of Embers, that you'll probably have to reread them both before the next release. So carve out the time now, and gather yourself a book club. The Bitter Kingdom is coming in the fall of 2013.