Review: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

Series: Girl of Fire and Thorns #3
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Reading Level: Young Adult, 13+
Pages: 433 (ARC)
Source: Trade
The epic conclusion to Rae Carson's Fire and Thorns trilogy. The seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen will travel into the unknown realm of the enemy to win back her true love, save her country, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny.

Elisa is a fugitive in her own country. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves in order to lure her to the gate of darkness. As she and her daring companions take one last quest into unknown enemy territory to save Hector, Elisa will face hardships she's never imagined. And she will discover secrets about herself and her world that could change the course of history. She must rise up as champion-a champion to those who have hated her most.
~*~Lili's Reflections~*~

This book blew me away. All expectations I had were blown out of the water completely. Rae Carson is a force to be reckoned with, no questions asked. While I'm sad to see this series go, I can honestly say that I am completely satisfied with the extensive and amazing journey Carson took me on.

One of my favorite things about Carson's writing is that it is not only beautiful, but there are also entertaining moments littered throughout the story. For a serious book full of life or death situations and decisions, I found myself laughing several times. Carson has this dry sense of humor that she inserts at the most random of times to lighten the mood of impending doom. One of my favorite examples of such humor was actually delivered from the hands of Elisa on page 60 of my ARC.

Mara's mare head-butts my lady-in-waiting in the chest. Grinning, Mara plants a kiss between her wide, dumb eyes, then murmurs something.
Have you named her? I ask.
"Yes! Her name is Jasmine."
I grimace. "But jasmine is such a sweet, pretty flower."
Mara laughs. "Have you named yours?"
"Her name is Horse."
She rolls her eyes. "If you want to get along with your mount, you have to learn each other's language. That means starting with a good name."
"All right." I pretend to consider. "What about Imbecile? Or Poops A Lot?" 

Clearly, Elisa hates horses (much to everyone's amusement).

My favorite aspect of this story was Elisa. Her character arc in this final book can only be described as phenomenal. We watched an insecure girl grow to be a magnificent queen who understands the weight of her title. She's simply perfect. I can't even begin to describe how much I love Elisa solely because she's the way a young adult heroine should be. She's strong, independent, witty, and intelligent. And she is the type of character that I would want my kids to read about when I become a Mom way way in the future.

Hands down, what I loved most in regards to her character evolution in this book was the fact that she discovered that her overwhelming heart and heroism comes from herself. Her heroics come from her being someone who is bred to be a queen who knows how to properly wield her insane power as opposed to her reliance on God and her religion or supreme connection with her Godstone. To put it simply, Elisa discovered she was badass just because she was born to badass, not because her Godstone made her that way. 

As always, Hector was amazing as well. Not only is he incredibly handsome and intelligent, but he finds himself in new, precarious situations that seem nearly impossible to get out of. But Hector is not only hot, but cunning, and he can fight his way out of nearly every situation. He proved to be a solid support system for Elisa in this book. To top it all off, there were even a few chapters in this book in his perspective. It was rather intriguing to be in the Commander's head, to see how he thinks and feels since he's so good at remaining expressionless at times. Now that I got a taste of his thought processes, I'm begging for more. I'd love a full story in his perspective. Oh well, one can dream!

The romantic plot line that took two books to build also exploded in this one. It was refreshing to see some characters be rewarded the way they should be because they were so pure and amazing. Everyone who got together in this one deserved each other. I can name three pairings off the top of my head and I found myself utterly satisfied with all of them, even if there were awkward and desperate moments throughout their road to happiness. The romance lover in me is utterly satisfied. 

We met a new character in this story named Mula. Mula came along because of Elisa's righteous self and desire to do good, especially to all who deserve it. Mula, meaning mule, is a slave child from a free village that is half Invierno and half Joyan. She's got beautiful eyes, but she's looked down upon because of this. However, despite being tender and small, she's fierce and intelligent and perhaps the most loyal character I have ever seen. I loved every second of her being there, especially her intense attachment to Mara. Speaking of which, Mara and Belen were just as amazing as always. Watching their relationship progress was a very nice back plot. While they were essential to the plot, they didn't have personalities as powerful as Elisa, Hector, Mula, and Storm, but that doesn't stop them from being any less entertaining or imperative to the group's survival.

Storm, surprisingly, was among my favorite characters in this. He undergoes an extensive character arc that allows him to realize not only what it is to have true friends and allies, but what it's like to be committed to a cause worth dying for. We learn how to perfect the art of deception without lying through him. And we experience an insane amount of new world-building at his hands. I thought that this was perhaps the most extensive world-building I have ever seen prior to reading this novel. Carson found a way to make this world even more solid, even more magical, via Storm and the tales of the Invierno's world. Elisa and her crew traveled into the realm of the enemy and came out with more knowledge than you would have believed. It's absolutely breathtaking to realize how much thought went into creating such a complex world with conflicting mythologies and creation myths.

Storm also provided a great amount of the comic relief. Shocking, I know, but his inability to understand banter and certain human emotions because of the stone-cold logic he was raised with is nothing short of sheer hilarity. It's very easy to get attached to the man that was once the enemy, and I think that's a very nice feat for Carson to have pulled off.

In the end, I could not have asked for a better story. There is scheming, there is death, there are battles, and constant political maneuvering. There is beautiful attention to detail and twist after twist after twist. But there isn't as much brutality as one would expect. In hindsight, Elisa did get everything she wanted. Occasionally there would be an obstacle in her path obscuring an easy road to their goal, but they'd always end up there with little to no great damage to direct relations of hers. I think that, in reality, such things that Elisa achieved would be slightly harder to achieve. 

However, with that in mind, this was one epic tale written by an absolutely brilliant author who deserves to be recognized by all. If you have not picked up this series yet, you simply must. It's one that cannot be ignored.

Rae Carson, it hurts to bid this beautiful world of yours adieu, but I can't wait to see what you have in store for us next.

5 stars



  1. I have an ARC of this, but I still haven't read The Crown Of Embers... Oops! Lovely, insightful review!
    -Scott Reads It!

  2. Excellent review, very thorough. I completely agree that the ending was wholly satisfying and worthwhile. I also loved the shots of humor throughout. Thanks for sharing!!

  3. You've convinced me, I must pick up this series! It sounds so good...great review.

    Dee@ Dee's Reads

  4. YES YES YES YES YES YES YES. I finally got to read this while camping this weekend and it blew me out of the water. I was so engrossed I tried to read by campfire even after it got too dark. Elisa. And Hector. AND ALL THE FEELS. I'm so sad this series is over.