Genre: Fantasy (Political) Age Range: Adult (YA in the US?) Star Rating: 5/5 stars Series: Yes - book 2 of trilogy
*SPOILER ALERT: contains SPOILERS for FIRE AND THORNS*
Elisa is a hero. She led her people to victory over a terrifying, sorcerous army. Her place as the country’s ruler should be secure. But it isn’t.
Her enemies come at her like ghosts in a dream, from foreign realms and even from within her own court. And her destiny as the chosen one has not yet been fulfilled.
To conquer the power she bears, once and for all, Elisa must follow a trial of long-forgotten—and forbidden—clues, from the deep, hidden catacombs of her own city to the treacherous seas. With her go a one-eyed spy, a traitor, and the man whom—despite everything—she is falling in love with.
If she’s lucky, she will return from this journey. But there will be a cost.
Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
I can’t believe it. I found something that actually resembles a review on Goodreads! I have so much more to say, but I am going to build it around what I found.
My all-time favourite book, and I’ve read it so many times that I’ve lost track (100+?). One of those amazing sequels which far exceeds the predecessor. Each time I read this, I fall even more in love with the book.
I utterly adore this book, and it remains my favourite book of all time.
I am not lying about that 100+ reads. I have both physical and ebook copies that have travelled the world with me. A rainy week in Spain when I read it once a day because we couldn’t go out and I didn’t speak enough Spanish to converse with my hosts. Nepal and freezing evenings curled up in bed with it. The list goes on.
My physical copy is in tatters, the plastic film on the cover (which is heat fused to the book!) is only held on with tape. I need to buy a new copy before it falls apart in my hands.
When I first read it, I didn’t realise this was a political fantasy book – I didn’t know that existed. But it is, and clearly the book that sparked my undying love of the sub-genre. This book revolves around Elisa trying to rule Joya d’Arena and her opponents trying to out-manoeuvre her for their own gain. Conde Eduardo is such a well drawn antagonist. He never feels like a villain because his reasoning is both understandable and a little relateable.
The descriptions are beautiful, and the attention to detail, character movements and development is amazing.
I often say the writing is lush or lyrical, but never back it up. This is the line that made me fall in love with the writing, and it sticks out every time I read it. End of chapter 2, page 25.
“Beyond them, the ocean horizon stretches and curves, as though someone has thumb-smeared the bottom of the sky with indigo paint.”
I’m not quite sure what it is about this line that makes me love it so, but I do. It’s so inventive and very evocative. And this is the level of writing throughout.
Since I’ve started writing myself, I’ve really noticed how Carson gives characters little habits and uses them consistently. Elisa plays with her hands or hair when nervous. Hector drops out of guard-mode when he’s thinking. It gives such a depth to the characters, and helps bring them alive by giving them the little ticks we all have.
The characters are stunningly drawn, so realistic, and you are invested in their arcs from page one.
There are so many characters I want to talk about here, but I’m restricting myself to Elisa and Hector, because I am going to gush about them like crazy. Mara, Belen, Storm and Rosario are going to have to wait until THE BITTER KINGDOM review for their turn.
Elisa’s arc is incredible, and you root for her the whole way through, no matter how much you hate her choices, which makes the ending all the more emotional. The reason she’s so compelling is because you understand why she’s making the choices, why she thinks that there are no other options available.
Elisa, Elisa, Elisa! Let me just scream into the void here that she is probably my favourite character of all time and that her arc is stunning. Every single time I read it.
I don’t see many arcs about leadership, and growing into a role. She makes mistakes – so many mistakes – and the whole way I’m rooting for her to win, to triumph over her opponents every single time. The island chapters are where she really grows, sees her mistakes and the choices there are brilliant. Some are sad, but they’re the right choice. Which makes the ending all the more emotional.
The romance between her and Hector is gripping – slow burn and full of tension. For once, the will-they/won’t-they’ drama doesn’t feel contrived because their hesitations and desires are so clearly explained – even though we’re only in Elisa’s POV.
Hector is, I guess, my book crush. Duteous, kind and intelligent, he has the best interactions with Elisa. This is my ship, the romance I will go down with and defend to the bitter end.
I am usually the last to care about a romance, but this showed me I like slow-burn. It gives time for the feelings to develop (insta-love is my least favourite) and can really pull out the tension between the characters.
The reasons why they can’t be together as so clearly explained – both political and person. The personal, particularly Hector’s side, are explored in toe-curling scenes that end up breaking your heart. I love that Hector gets a say, and it means it doesn’t feel like obstacles for obstacles’ sake (aka trying to increase narrative tension).
In short, if you haven’t read this book, DO.
Read my reviews of other books by Rae Carson
Fire and Thorns (this series):
- THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORN STORIES (#0.5-0.7)
- FIRE AND THORNS (#1)
- THE BITTER KINGDOM (#3)
- THE EMPIRE OF DREAMS (#4)
The Gold Seer Trilogy:
- WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER (#1)
- LIKE A RIVER GLORIOUS (#2)
- INTO THE BRIGHT UNKNOWN (#3)