[WARNING: Spoilers for The Girl of Fire and Thorns ahead]
I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC for The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson shortly after finishing The Girl of Fire and Thorns. And while I really liked Girl of Fire and Thorns, I didn’t LOVE it. It wasn’t one of my favorite books ever. It was simply “really good.”
However after reading Crown of Embers, I would now recommend Girl of Fire and Thorns JUST so that you could read its sequel. Even if Girl of Fire and Thorns wasn’t good. Because Crown of Embers is THAT good.
Crown of Embers picks up shortly after the conclusion of Girl of Fire and Thorns. After months of leading a desert resistance, and after defeating the overwhelming army that threatened to destroy her husband’s kingdom, Godstone-bearer Elisa now finds herself a widowed queen, in charge of a nation still threatened by dark and mysterious forces.
As Elisa tries to determine how to govern her kingdom and keep her people safe, she finds there’s few she can trust: only her personal maids, Ximena and Mara, and her personal guard, Lord Hector, seem to be fully on her side.
Elisa’s advisers believe that she should form a strategic alliance with one of the northern nobility through marriage, a possibility that Elisa reluctantly agrees to consider. But as she entertains various suitors, she must also worry about several recent attempts on her life. And through it all, the Godstone that she bears still gives her the feeling that she has not yet fulfilled her act of service.
Okay, I’m just going to come out and say it. The reason I didn’t like Girl of Fire and Thorns as much as I wanted to was because Lord Hector quickly became my favorite character, and then he was absent for most of the book. It’s hard to LOVE a book when your favorite character isn’t there for most of it.
However, in Crown of Embers, Hector is front and center from beginning to end, and he doesn’t disappoint. He’s now sitting comfortably near the top of my mental list of favorite male book characters, and I don’t see him getting displaced any time soon. He’s everything I love in a male fantasy character — noble, brave, honorable, kind. If Rae Carson ever decides to give Hector his own spin-off series, I wouldn’t argue with that.
But never fear, Hector is certainly not the only thing that Crown of Embers has going for it. I thought the plot for this book was a lot tighter and more cohesive than Girl of Fire and Thorns. It’s not that the first book didn’t make sense — it did — it’s that this one just seemed to flow more naturally, and the details threaded together more easily in my brain.
I was still left with a few questions at the end, but nothing huge. More along the lines of, “Why didn’t it ever occur to this character to do that?” And the answer may simply be that sometimes ideas don’t occur to people, even if they should be obvious. There were no questions that hurt the plot or the believability of the story.
The religious aspect that was so dominant in Girl of Fire and Thorns is still present, but not quite as front-and-center this time. There’s still talk of religious texts and doctrine, but it’s not as prevalent. I thought that in this book, Elisa seemed to mature in her faith and find a better balance between her duties as queen and her religion. She wasn’t as hesitant, although she was still questioning. I liked the growth of her character, and thought the tone of the book really reflected how she had changed.
As far as flaws with the book, there’s a very large trial that the characters go through, with very little payoff. I think it worked for the story and for Elisa’s character, but sometimes it’s disappointing in books when there’s a ton of buildup and then not a lot happens.
Also, the ending made me want to punch someone, just a little bit. It manages to have some good resolution, while still ending on a huge cliffhanger. It’s weird to simultaneously feel so satisfied and so unsatisfied. So be warned, people. When the ending comes, you may want to have a pillow or a stress ball handy. Just sayin’.
Overall, I loved this book. The pacing was excellent, the characters were amazingly well-developed, and the world building was, again, exquisite. If you’re looking for a YA fantasy series that you can really sink your teeth into, I can’t recommend this series highly enough.
Content Guide: Contains violence, sexual situations