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.
Author; Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication Date: September 18 2012
Sequel to: The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Elisa is the queen, and she is responsible for keeping her kingdom safe from Inviernos. This requires remarkable sacrifice, and Elisa is trying to be the best ruler she can be. I liked that the struggles of ruling were so well explored. It reminded me of Daenarys' storyline in Game of Thrones. Elisa wants to be a great ruler. She's trying to figure out how. It involves lots of sacrifice and posturing. Every move she makes has to be very strategic. She has to lie a lot, and try to outwit her enemies. The moral ambiguity of being queen, even with as strong a claim and character as Elisa's, is very real. Elisa has to decide punishments, and truly use her power well. This storyline was enough to entertain me for the entire novel, and I loved it. I've never hidden my interest in the concept of having power, ruling, and absolute power corrupts absolutely or whatever. So many YA books are about rebellions, and I've always thought that tearing the system down is only half the struggle. Something has to replace it, and this requires building a better world. Elisa is actively trying to accomplish this.
But, this fantastic storyline was rivalled by another; my intense, undying love for Hector. Considering I remember so little of the first book, I fell hard for Hector in this one. Hector is brilliant. Smart, understanding, noble, loyal. But my favourite thing about him is his relationship with Elisa. Elisa is the Queen. She is his sovereign. He is her most important guard. He is in charge of keeping Elisa safe because Elisa is his sovereign, but also because he likes her. They have something blooming, and this relationship was an incredible highlight of The Crown of Embers. Frankly, it was romance done right. The romance was mature and very considerate. Elisa and Hector's relationship is beyond infatuation. It's about two people that want a real relationship with each other, and have to acknowledge the real obstacles in their way. I loved this. It's rare that a romance can capture my attention, but this one was wonderful because the chemistry was authentic.
There's also a larger plot in The Crown of Embers that centres around some sort of quest for power, and this is probably the weakest point of this book because it's a rather forgettable storyline. It doesn't stand out to me. It doesn't need to, because it has these awesome substorylines that make reading every chapter a delight. However, the plot looks like it will pick up because things get very twisty by the end of The Crown of Embers. Let's just say this one leaves you breathless for more.
One last comment on The Crown of Embers is to praise the writing. The writing never got in the way of the story, which I figure is the baseline for decent writing, but then Rae Carson took another step forward because there were some fantastic passages. I realized this acutely once I read a particular line that touched me because it was based so strongly on real emotion. When I talk about how much I enjoy reading every chapter, or I talk about how great I thought Elisa was, (and even all the other characters that are not Hector and Elisa, like Mara!), this is all possible due to writing that enables the reader to form a connection to the story. It's subtly important.
Overall, I am glad I gave this series another shot because I am now a big fan. And I can't wait to read The Bitter Kingdom!