I think sometimes when we find love we pretend it away, or ignore it, or tell ourselves we're imagining it. Because it's the most painful kind of hope there is. It can be ripped away so easily. By indifference. By death.
Well that was certainly exhausting.
Two things that this book is not but should be: a videogame (in the Final Fantasy tradition) and the finale of a six or seven book series.
Unlike in Crown of Embers where I found the climax a bit of a head-scratcher and the build up to it too intricate to hold my attention, The Bitter Kingdom in its unrelenting pace of action upon action had everything tacked tight but at the same time dancing a little too close to the edge of my interest. It seemed like a plot twist away from someone shouting "Bullshit!"
Which is of course silly seeing this is High Fantasy fiction.
Thankfully the characters were developed and likable enough for me to actually care and pay attention to what's going on in all four parts of this crazy ride.
Let me tell you the brilliance of this series as a whole. It incorporates themes of faith and purpose, toeing the line between magic and religion without coming across pejorative (in the right reader mindset anyway). It takes pages out of history and plays with its nuances: making the White Men the archaic and displaced indigenous minority in favor of the technologically advanced Joyans? I see what you did there Rae Carson. It steps out of the comforts of the attractive heroine and the dominant hero and follows none of the tropes we collectively roll our eyes on. The Love Triangle? The Lengthy Separation? The Big Misunderstanding?
Not in the Carson house.
This kicked off immediately where Embers ended and moves the story along with Elisa's rescue of Hector from Franco's group and the Joyan dissidents as the starting point. Which eventually leads them deep into Invierne territory where Elisa finally learns the truth behind the zafira, the Godstones and the history of their peoples which serves as a pivotal point in her quest to bring peace to both territories and, eventually, in her bid to reclaim Joya d'Arena from the treasonous Conde Eduardo.
There really was so much depth and material in between all those events that could easily fill another two or three books in this series. It has that inert potential to be as complex as requiring a table or a graph but didn't go that route and instead packed punch after punch, chapter after chapter of escapes and pursuits. One minute they're hostile guests in a royal animagi's court the next they're running from an avalanche, then the next they're in some underground mine and so on and so forth. It's like this was written to be an XBOX experience. Which was great, but it did get to a point where everything just became completely ridiculous how every time Elisa decides on a course they'd be taking in their journey, each ends up with someone getting injured perilously or surviving by the skin of their teeth. Who broke seven mirrors and had a masters degree in Murphy's Law?!
I finally found some humor in the delivery of this story which was sorely missing in Embers. I do always appreciate the heavy aspects in a book when it stops taking itself too seriously. I found myself laughing at Hector's lines for some strange reason.
I'm feeling satiated and warm when Hector stands and stretches. "I need to check the horse," he says. He turns to me. "Want to learn how to polish tack?"
And in a scene that's supposed to be intense where he yells, "Get ready to stomp!" I have to admit to laughing outright. I don't think I was meant to though. I did like how in the beginning he wasn't reduced to a lovelorn, pining ninny over Elisa. How he manages to pull off being charming and putting dignity in being a lovelorn, petty ninny towards Elisa in the end, I will never know.
I think this series has very strong feminist themes and overtures from the very first book in making Elisa an anti-heroine. She's strong, with a brilliant tactical mind but she was never a walking PSA for short and overweight girls. However I did feel it went a little too hammer to the head in conveying her strength in this book. Make no qualms about it, she's the badass, motherchucking, pew-pewing hero in this joint.
"I am queen of Joya d'Arena and bearer of a living Godstone. I kneel to no one."
Of course, the prevailing trend of a heroine using her feminine wiles to get what she wants will never work with Elisa as she's neither attractive nor feminine and I get that her strength needs to be in-your-face than subtle. I just wished it wasn't doled out too often, almost at every opportunity she's given, even in unprovoked circumstances of self-motivation.
I quite liked the chemistry between all the characters in their journey and found better affinity towards Storm and his Sheldony ways. I find Mula an amusing and likable addition, one that I am curious of beyond the end of this story together with Belen and Mara. It's funny, I don't think I've ever wanted a novella as much as I do for each of these secondary characters. I think a Storm and Alodia novella would be awesome.
As a whole, this was a very satisfying end to a series a few flaws but none that affected my enjoyment too much. Hey this could've been stretched and milked to dry… but I guess Rae Carson's imagination is too Daft Punk for that. It leaves you wanting more for the characters even after the last page, so she must have done it right, right?