Saturday, March 2, 2013
Review: Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
Title: Crown of Embers (Girl of Fire and Thorns, #2)
Author: Rae Carson
Rating: 4.5 Stars
I have to admit, I am a little upset. Not because of the cliffhanger ending, but because I was expecting one and it never came. Seriously. I pre-ordered this book and have been staring at it longingly on my shelves for MONTHS, refusing to be subject to a terrible, heart-wrenching cliffhanger, only to have an ending that leaves me jumping up and down for joy, completely satisfied and happy. Needless to say, we all need to re-affirm our definition of a cliffhanger ending.
Does Crown of Embers leave you wanting The Bitter Kingdom as soon as you can possibly get your hands on it? Yes. Actually, ALL good books should leave you wanting to continue the series. So, really, Rae Carson was only doing her job. NOT writing a gut-wrenching cliffhanger that left me sobbing on the floor. (Yes, I am looking at YOU Sarah Rees Brennan. Will I ever forgive you? Only if Kami and Jared make out like crazy in Untold.)
Nevertheless, I suppose that the ending of Crown of Embers can be construed as a cliffhanger. It does, after all, end in the middle of plans for an epic journey. BUT, more than anything else, I ended this book elated.
With The Crown of Embers, Rae Carson writes a sequel that is far stronger than its predecessor - a feat only few other authors have managed to do so far while writing a trilogy. Although I must admit that I am sure Carson has lost faithful fans with this installment, for it is far more introspective, character-driven, and political than the whirlwind adventure her first book was, it was the perfect piece for this story arc and made me fall in love with her writing, characters, and settings even more than before.
Crown of Embers excels simply because of its politics. It details the many assassination attempts on Elisa and her growth to becoming the queen she is meant to be, all while dealing with backstabbers in her court, is a slow and steady climb, rewarding in every step of the way. Furthermore, Elisa is no longer the simple princess we knew from The Girl of Fire and Thorns. Seeing her become politically savvy was a journey of its own and while she'll never have the cunning it takes to run a country the way Irene and Gen from The Queen's Thief Series do, she's pretty darn close.
What Crown of Embers lacks in adventure, though, it makes up for with its romance. The Girl of Fire and Thorns told the sweet, blooming story of first love, but Crown of Embers chronicles the passionate, burning love of a woman. One of my favorite things about this novel is that Carson isn't afraid to talk about sex. We do have sex in YA Literature, but do we ever really have discussions about it? No. Rae Carson, however, makes it normal for her characters to discuss sex, their passion and lust for another, all in a way that makes it seem right and natural and loving. Why can't more authors do this? Why is it seen as wrong or disgusting or dirty to want to have sex with a man? Why is it seen as embarrassing to talk about sex with your friends? If you can't talk about sex with them, if you can't tell the person you love that you want to have sex with them, then who can you tell?
Crown of Embers isn't all about sex, but considering this is one of the ONLY novels I've come across that incorporates this aspect of growing up so seamlessly into its text, it stood out to me. Needless to say, Rae Carson really does cover every aspect of Elisa's growth as a woman, as a monarch, and as a person. Stunning.
Nevertheless, what makes Crown of Embers a novel that really does not have a cliffhanger ending is the fact that the entire book is a whirlwind journey of emotion. Rae Carson, you have thoroughly messed my heart. For the first half of this novel, I was quite literally dying of anticipation because the sexual tension in this book is notched up like nothing else is. It is sweet, slow-to-burn, and oh-so-genuine. It is actual, tender, caring love, but mixed into that, is an immense amount of longing that simmers in your heart.
Well, if you thought the sexual tension is bad, wait until the romantic couple in this novel - Hector and Eliza - finally kiss because then the million reasons why they can't be together pops up. For once, this isn't simply an issue that exists for the sake of drama. Instead, it is a very real problem. You see, a romance isn't built upon power - it is built upon mutual understanding, love, and respect. If you are in love with a queen, though, power is nearly always at play. I admire Carson for bringing up such a prevalent issue with her love story because power imbalances exist in relationships even today and even in nations that aren't ruled by a monarch. Furthermore, though, Hector is just such a swoon-worthy hero. We know he'd give up his life to save Elisa, but as we learn, he's given up so much more than that too. Moreover, he understands Elisa like a best friend, knows her at her strongest and weakest times, and appreciates her for who she is inside, not the position of power she holds.
Finally, though, Rae Carson ends this book perfectly. We finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, the way for our romantic couple to finally be together and granted, they are separated at the end, but we finish this novel knowing that they will find a way to be together, that Elisa has finally become the queen she was meant to be, and that this is going to go down in history as one of the best trilogies ever.
Unless, of course, Carson kills of Hector, which would make her lose all her fans and everyone would hate.
So, you know, she won't do that.
Or if she does, she'll write an alternate ending novella where Hector and Elisa will make out all day in the sand.
If you haven't already picked up this series, then, please, don't wait. It's amazing. It has rich world-building, incredible characters, astounding growth, simmering romance, and truly makes you think and question everything you know about faith, inner-belief and self-growth.
Rae Carson, just write an amazing third novel, okay? We'll be best friends after that. I promise.