Saturday, November 3, 2012

Book Review: The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

Happy November! With the sudden drop in temperature over here, I had a sudden urge to read something a little more medieval, with kings and castles and peasants in blouses and such. Don't ask me why--maybe it's the warm colours of dirt grounds, or the image of heavy gowns and robes. Whatever the case is, I was lucky enough to find out that the long-awaited sequel to "The Girl of Fire and Thorns" was released a couple of weeks ago! The first book of this series by Rae Carson really had me engaged by and enraptured with the strong, likable heroine, as well as the unique fantasy world it's set in. "The Crown of Embers" is a continuation of Elisa's journey as she deals with the trials of being queen.

Seventeen-year old Elisa is now a hero. Not only did she defeat the terrifying Invierno, but she is also the bearer of the Godstone--a source of vast power that was bestowed upon her at birth. However, being queen is an entirely different matter, and, before she knows it, her enemies begin to make their moves to dethrone Elisa--from outside the realm as well as inside her own palace. In order to protect her people and secure her authority, Elisa must make yet another journey in search of the very source of the Godstone's power. Along with a one-eyed traitor, a loyal friend, an enemy, and the man she finds herself helplessly falling for, Elisa will face many obstacles--but is she strong enough to overcome them and become a true queen?

One of the best things about "The Crown of Embers" is Elisa herself. I'm always a fan of strong, kick-ass characters, but the thing that particularly sets Elisa apart is that she never started off that way, nor did she have a sudden moment where she became super cool and lived a whole new world. Instead, Elisa's development is a lot more gradual and, in this way, a lot more believable. Her strength isn't even in the fact that she has a holy object of power stuck in her belly button; it's her determination to save her people and protect her friends that's her driving force. Her devotion to her subjects and her loved ones isn't overbearing and sappy, either, which is important when giving a character a trait like this. Another thing I like about Elisa is that she's intelligent and very much down-to-earth. She accepts the fact that she isn't the prettiest, strongest or bravest person, and despite any shortcomings works that much harder to be a great queen and, more importantly, a great friend. The one minor complaint I have about Elisa is that her narrative voice isn't extremely compelling or unique, but maybe that's just not what her character's like.

All of the other characters in the novel are three-dimensional and nuanced. Storm is a very interesting character to follow, since being a traitor Invierno sheds a new light on the hostile race, and he himself is strangely regal and honourable in his own way. The banter between Storm and Elisa is amusing to read about, and provides humour to the generally more serious storyline. Also, I particularly liked Hector and his romance with Elisa (come on, it just screams out at you from page one), which was rendered very realistically without becoming too sappy and roll-your-eyes. Hector himself is strong and loyal, but at the same time struggles between his duty as the head of the queen's royal guard and his love for an equally strong, independent girl. After Humberto, I thought I'd be hostile toward another love interest for Elisa, but Hector and Elisa's relationship is so natural and sweet that such hesitation never surfaced.

The plot of the novel is layered and complex enough to keep the reader engaged throughout the story. The first few chapters of the book were a little bit slow for me despite the immediate action and tension in the opening chapter, and this is probably because Ms. Carson was introducing the context of Elisa's ascendancy as queen regnant and reminding readers of different characters and other major events in the previous book. Soon enough, the pace quickened, and I was engaged throughout the rest of the novel. In fact, I finished the last 3/4 in one sitting! One little downside was that the climax was a little un-climax-y. I felt like Elisa got away too easily, and it was over in a couple of pages. The ending, though, was a cliffhanger, and I really, really can't wait until the next and final book of the trilogy!

Overall, Ms. Carson's "The Crown of Embers" is an engaging, unique installment to the "Girl of Fire and Thorns" trilogy. The genuinely strong, likable heroine, the believable characters, and the compelling plot work together to create a fun read that you won't put down.

Rating: 4/5

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