Stage 1: *shifty eyes* This is too good to be true, right? Best first chapter of a novel ever! Elisa, why are you so cool?
Stage 2: Ah, this is AWESOME! Elisa be my friend. OMG, politics! I love books about court politics. HECTOR! Politics, politics, politics, assassination attempts. I LOVE THIS BOOK, right?
Stage 3: Unresolved Sexual Tension. Do it. Kiss already, dammit! Holy cow why is this so brilliant?!
Stage 4: Ope, I knew it. Carson, you let me down. Boo!
Stage 5: HECTOR!!! And dayum, Elisa you are sexy when you’re bossy. Get it, gurl.
Stage 6: …oh. It’s over? But but but…no! What about Hector?!
Right. So as you can see, for the majority of this book I was riding on an intense high of “this is so awesome!” which is always fun. I definitely need to find more books that make me feel like that. But, sadly, just because I liked The Crown of Embers better than its prequel didn’t mean it was perfect. And this book wasn’t perfect for me, as evidenced by Stage 4 of my reading experience. And, since I’m getting the bad out of the way first to focus on the overwhelming awesome, we’ll discuss Stage 4 now.
So, my big problem with The Girl of Fire and Thorns was the religious aspect. Because, essentially, Rae Carson borrowed wholesale from Judeo-Christian ideology and plopped it down in her supposed “fantasy” world. Now doesn’t it seem to you that if you were going to write a fantasy novel you’d, you know, want to have fantasy elements in it? It seems inexcusably lazy to just steal Christian concepts and scripture. Lazy, I say. I was really relieved, then, when the first half of The Crown of Embers revealed no copying of the Bible. Really, it’s not the themes and messages I object to so much as the blatant plagiarism of passages from the Bible. Because that’s beyond lazy. And guess what? After the halfway mark, The Crown of Embers straight-up plagiarized multiple verses from the Bible. To give you an idea, Carson stole from the book of Ruth, Psalms, the Gospels, and some other New and Old Testament books that I can’t remember off the top of my head. Full, nearly verbatim phrases. Straight from the Bible. Not even kidding.
Stealing words from another source—no matter what that source is, then inserting those exact same words into your book and passing them off as your own. Is that not the very definition of plagiarism? It is, yes? There is no justification for plagiarism. It’s inexcusable and I will forever hold a grudge against Rae Carson for being A PLAGIARIST.
But, as frustrated as that whole lazy world-building, cheap trick mythology makes me, The Crown of Embers is still an extremely good book, though I must say the last 100 pages or so felt a bit…off. But anyway.
This book starts with a flourish. Elisa is running around town doing queenly things when BAM, assassination attempt. And then in the first 10 chapters, there are 2 more assassination attempts and other bad things. Obviously, this girl has problems, and the biggest one is how much she’s attracted to her hunky Commander of the Royal Guard, Lord Hector. Hector, by the way, wins all the awards for genuine, swoonable YA love interest. He just wins.
The first half of The Crown of Embers deals mostly with court politics and scheming lords, etc. And that, honestly, is my favorite type of plot technique in any given fantasy novel. It makes me giddy and makes me think about people and I love it when there are poisonings and stabbings and midnight trysts. Yes I do. The second half of the novel deals with Elisa sneaking south to go on a quest so that she can commune with God more closely—and that’s where the excessive Bible-quoting comes in. That aspect, honestly, was just as well done as the court politics section, but I got tired of it a bit more quickly. Quests and adventurous journeys aren’t as interesting to me, personally. And the ridiculous amount of unresolved sexual tension between Elisa and Hector was driving me batty. Batty in a good way, obviously.
I will now take this opportunity to explain why Elisa is a fantastic female protagonist. #1: she’s not beautiful but she doesn’t spend all her time complaining about how ugly she is. #2: she’s smart and brave and proactive. #3: her sense of humor is self-depreciating but not in a depressing, shoot-me-now kind of way. #4: THIS SCENE—
I clench my hands into fists and yell, “Hector!”
He whips around.
“You were never, never, going to be just a diversion to me.”
He sighs, nodding. “That was unfair of me,” he says. “I’m sorry—”
“And you will kiss me again. That and more. Count on it” (pg. 359).
Yep. Bossy Elisa is sexy. And gets a big round of applause from yours truly. Winning.
So, in the end, all I have to say is this: The Crown of Embers is pretty darn good. Except for the Biblical plagiarism. But I suspect that Carson got away with that since the majority of her readers won’t be able to point fingers at aforementioned plagiarism, not being familiar enough with the Bible. That puts me in the minority. So if you liked The Girl of Fire and Thorns and enjoy passionate protagonists and action-intensive plotlines, read this book. It has that and more.