Review of THE BITTER KINGDOM by RAE CARSON
(third in the FIRE AND THORNS trilogy, review based on an advance reading copy)
I enjoyed the first two books in this trilogy and THE BITTER KINGDOM only improved my overall impression of the series. This third and final installment sucked me in on the first page and proved a fast, easy, and satisfying read.
Elisa's a wonderful protagonist. She's admirable without being inhumanly perfect. She feels real. In her perspective, we know all her doubts, but can also see how confident and capable she comes across to everyone else - and no wonder. She considers every obstacle carefully, weighing logic and gut feelings. "Queen" isn’t treated like a fantasy role of riches and power in this series, but rather an insurmountable burden of responsibility that few can handle. Elisa being one of those who can.
I also admire that Carson really delves into the nuts and bolts of her world and story. Part of what makes some fictional rulers feel only lucky and privileged is how many authors gloss over all the challenges. Carson shows all the planning and strategizing and sacrifices of war and other literal and metaphorical battles. Elisa may have one primary problem leading the story, but many others pop up along the way and she handles each one with impressive composure and consideration.
My only quibble (and this paragraph contains spoilers for earlier books) is that Carson slips into Hector's viewpoint in this book. Since the last book ended with his capture Carson no doubt wants to show readers what he's experiencing, but it feels like cheating. This is only my personal, somewhat strict, opinion, but I feel when an author chooses a viewpoint they're accepting the challenge of sticking with that viewpoint even when the main character isn't around other interesting happenings. I would have had no problem with multiple viewpoint characters, but in my mind it's cheating to suddenly dip into Hector's perspective only in the third book only when it's convenient.
Overall, though, I'm full of admiration for Carson over this series. These books can satisfy both readers looking for an engaging, gripping story primarily for entertainment purposes and those craving thought-provoking novels with a layered plot and complex characters. I can't wait to see what Carson writes next!