This series gets: ♥♥♥♥♥ out of 5
The Crown of Embers, by Rae Carson – I need to just get something off my chest before we start this review: Rae Carson knows how to write. When she sits down at her keyboard, do birds start singing? Do little deer come out of the woods and press their shiny black noses to her window? Do squirrels knit her a new dress every morning out of moss and bramble?
Anyway, my point is that The Crown of Embers is a very worthy follow-up to Girl of Fire and Thorns (I am shocked and a little horrified to not have reviewed it, but if you have not read it, simply be content to know it is amazing and that you should definitely read it). Elisa, our overweight princess from the previous novel, has trimmed down some through her adventures across the desert and, due to circumstances, is now queen of the realm. Not only that, but she’s developing some… feelings, for a particular captain of the guard.
And let’s just say, it steams off the page. Hector is… delectable, hiding so much behind a stiff exterior, stuck between duty and passion. And not only has Elisa changed in shape from our previous book, she is also a grown woman. Fiercer, smarter, cleverer. I love Elisa. I love Elisa more than I’ve ever loved another YA heroine.
Good sequels in YA are getting harder and harder to come by; middle novels in a series tend to move slow and only pick up near the big-revelation-climax-ending. Carson does anything but fall into this trap. Things start off in Crown of Embers at a breakneck speed, with even tighter, higher stakes. Attempted assassinations, political marriages, even a quest, before we’re even to the halfway mark.
Elisa is back and better than ever in this installment. She’s smart, and strong, but also powerful–she is queen, after all, and a chosen one of God–and she knows how to use it. Elisa also knows that with great power comes great responsibility, great sacrifice, and worst of all, great guilt. And she carries that guilt with her knowingly. Willingly.
I adore her. She is a real girl with real desires and real hopes and real doubts, and she faces them all fearlessly, with logic and reason and a truly sharp wit.
Her cast of supporting characters is nothing to raise a nose at, either. Some are giving an encore performance (Mara, Belén), while new, even better characters are introduced in Crown of Embers. I loved each of them by turns: Tristán, even Storm. They are all valuable in their own way; and they constantly surprise us, all while very truthfully staying themselves.
All this barely touches the surface of the world that Carson has created for us. From sea to desert, palace to sewers, this book is alive. And not just the scenery (though that is, in itself, a work of mastery) but also the culture, the politics, the religion. It’s all here in perfect prose, perfect pace. We lust after Hector, poised and waiting for any little touch, any little affection, in a setting I can only describe as Indiana Jones meets Journey to the Center of the Earth.
I cried about five times, and thus, give Carson’s Crown of Embers five very big hearts.