Book Review

Book Review of The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

The Bitter Kingdom Book Review

I was so intrigued by this series that when I was given the opportunity to review the 3rd book, I bought and read the first two before writing my review. I'm SO glad I did. Rae Carson has crafted the perfect blend of fantasy with just the slightest hint of sci-fi and created a series of novels that absolutely stands out as a unique masterpiece in the Y.A. genre.

Don't even think of touching The Bitter Kingdom unless you've read the first two novels in the trilogy. The third book is not a stand-alone and it's important to know what's going on with Elisa, her world and the rest of the characters. If you aren't familiar with the Girl of Fire and Thorns books, they are set in another world with a medieval feel and believable magic that is present but doesn't overwhelm. This isn't The Lord of the Rings fantasy. It's more along the lines of George R.R. Martin's style of fantasy - much more plausible, and like our own history and culture with just a smattering of fantasy elements that makes it clear this isn't our world and yet somehow it's very close. There is just a smidgen of sci-fi that explains some of the world, as well as the magic that made it all much more believable. I LOVED that. It's a pretend world that has a quiet sci-fi history that links it to our real world. I like how you have to root out the details over time as the world unfolds.

The series starts out with Elisa, a coddled, chunky princess who was born with a godstone in her navel. The godstone's bearer is destined to fulfill some great, divine purpose. Elisa is not someone you'd imagine with such a great destiny. She's uncertain and drowns her sorrows in too many pastries. Squeezed into her dresses and fumbling about, you can't imagine her doing much of anything great. And yet, Elisa slowly grows on you. She's honest, and good and begins to grow as a person she (and you as the reader) never imagined she could be. I loved watching her grow over the course of the three books. Kudos to Rae Carson for creating such a real character who has to work through her uncertainties and physical shortcomings. It's quite a transformation to see a beautiful and smart young woman unfold from an overprotected, pudgy shell - like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.

The third novel, The Bitter Kingdom, starts right where the 2nd book leaves off with Elisa searching for Hector. All my favorite characters showed up as well as a few new characters. One of my favorite new ones: Mula, the half breed child whose innocence adds a touch of humor and sweetness via her unconditional loyalty to the story. I love the extra perspectives in this novel via Hector that allows a reader to see things happening outside of Elisa's purview. The third novel is action packed and a lot more information about the world and the inhabitants is shared. There are plenty of twists with the perfect pacing. The thing is, I don't want to share any of the details because there are too many spoilers! Suffice it to say that the third novel is just as beautiful as the first two and everything is wrapped up perfectly, with a few surprises thrown in for good measure.

I also like that Carson didn't rush the romantic element but left it simmering over the first two books and broke out of the usual Y.A. mold of "insta-love". The relationship between Elisa and Hector is resolved without anything being forced and without any of the teen drama or love triangles espoused in so many other books. There is a layer of complexity that is appealing to me as an adult.

Carson is also a master at world building. I love all of the details and the time she spends building not only a world that is so realistic, but characters who are as well. I also found it interesting that a very strong Christian feeling theme of self sacrifice seems to wrap itself around the series. There is a lot of religion played out in the stories via the godstone, prayer and more. As a Christian, I found myself being able to relate to a lot of the themes and found this aspect of the series to be really interesting.

The Bitter Kingdom is an absolutely satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. All the loose threads are tied up in an action packed, complex, and sweeping story. I hated to see it all end, but the ending was so perfect, I can't complain. I can only hope that Rae Carson will revisit Elisa's world with maybe a prequel about how things on her world started out in the first place!

Now for the mom warning: While most of the series is tame enough for teens, do be aware that s*x is hinted at, and a method of birth control (herbs) is mentioned. These themes are even more prevalent in the third novel. Carson handles these subjects with a very subtle and tasteful brush though without being explicit. However, it still might be too much for younger readers. There is also death and violence in the series that is realistically portrayed. There is so much wonderful growth in the main character(s) that as a parent, I feel the series is worthwhile despite the possible objectionable content if you are willing to discuss it.

*I recieved a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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