You know how so often a sequel is disappointing and doesn't live up to the expectations of its predecessor's brilliance? That is a fairly common experience for me. Uncommon is the sequel that is amazingly better than the book you fell in love with in the first place. The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson was such a book. Don't misunderstand me. I loved loved loved The Girl of Fire and Thorns when I read it last year. (You can read all my love filled thoughts here.) The Crown of Embers met that love and raised it to the power of infinity. I needed a book like this. One that I could lose myself in and experience without anything marring the enjoyment. This book made me have all the feelings. I kind of just want to bask in those feeling for days, so forgive me if I fail to do nothing more than fangirl through all of this.
NOTE: If you have NOT read Girl of Fire and Thorns, STOP reading this and go read that instead. Then come back and read this.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Elisa is the hero of
her country. She led her people to victory against a terrifying enemy,
and now she is their queen. But she is only seventeen years old. Her
rivals may have simply retreated, choosing stealth over battle. And no
one within her court trusts her-except Hector, the commander of the
royal guard, and her companions. As the country begins to crumble
beneath her and her enemies emerge from the shadows, Elisa will take
another journey. With a one-eyed warrior, a loyal friend, an enemy
defector, and the man she is falling in love with, Elisa crosses the
ocean in search of the perilous, uncharted, and mythical source of the
Godstone's power. That is not all she finds.
Elisa is, once again, out of her depth through most of the book. Or out of her perceived depth in any case. She is once more unsure of herself and her decisions. She thinks too much and does too little. She is not nearly as awkward and unsure as the young princess she was at the beginning of book one, but she certainly regressed toward that girl a little. And I loved that because it is completely realistic. Yes she is a war hero. Yes she did amazing things. They were in a different environment with people who didn't know her though. Here, back in the palace, it makes sense that she would go back to being more hesitant and less confident. I love how her character is being developed and forged through these books. She comes so far in book one. She takes a few steps back to start book two, but again comes so far by the end. This is being done through making mistakes, having to pay for them, and learning from them. It is demonstrated in her interactions with the people around her, her responses to the things that happen to her. The people around her don't tell us she's changed, she doesn't think at length on her changing, we get to see her change as the story progresses.
The action here is pretty much non-stop from the opening scene. There are multiple assassination attempts made on Elisa, there are plots to uncover, dirty dealings going on in her court, a perilous journey to take. Fortunately, Elisa has good people she can trust and who care deeply for her that have her back. Ximena I was far more annoyed with in this book than in the first book though her behavior was the same. It was stifling Elisa though. Still she does have Elisa's best interests in mind. It was nice to see the friendship between Elisa and Mara developing even more. It was good for Elisa to have someone she could confide in.
And of course there is Hector. Hector-who-we-did-not-get-nearly-enough-of-before. There was good reason for that, but I pretty much fell for him in the first scene he was in so when he was largely absent for most of the first book I was annoyed. No such problems this time. He is very present in this book. He is, after all, in charge of keeping Elisa alive and well. Everything about him in the story made me love him more. He is honorable to, a fault. Really. He is supportive of Elisa, but honest with her. He is prideful, and that combined with his too-much-honor make him realistically flawed. He is also tender, sweet, and conflicted.
As you can guess from the synopsis and my preceding paragraph there is more romance in the plot this time. It is so well done. It builds slowly. There are a lot of furtive glances, stolen touches, wonder, and doubt. It is a romance built on friendship and trust. My favorite part was how much conversation took place. There was open honest communication and when an obstacle was thrown in the path of the budding romance it wasn't because of a silly miscommunication-a device that is overused and greatly annoying. When they hit bumps in their road they were legitimate bumps that people in their positions would have. This is a mature relationship. We so few of those in YA novels that it makes me want to cheer. Added to that are plenty of moments to make you swoon and/or melt into a puddle.
The end was a bit of a cliffhanger. On the one hand it made me desperately, DESPERATELY want the conclusion. On the other it completely satisfied me. Somehow in the midst of what is actually a wretched scene, Carson managed to make me laugh and cheer. That people, takes major skill and she deserves major applause for it. (I am glaring while applauding.)
So next year (sobs due to the wait) when The Bitter Kingdom comes out I will be pre-ordering a copy I can pick up the day it is released rather than having it mailed to me. That just takes too long.