The Crown of Embers is by far one of my favorite books of the year, and Rae Carson is well on her way to being one of my favorite authors. Rae started her writing career with a bang with The Girl of Fire and Thorns, which I absolutely loved. It was great to see a YA fantasy deal with issues of self-image and self-empowerment. Elisa was a strong, compelling, and loveable heroine, who was kickass even though she didn't always know it. In The Crown of Embers we return to Elisa's world a few months after the death of her husband and find her struggling to rule her kingdom. There's romance and adventure, and so much amazing writing you won't be able to put this book down.
The Crown of Embers begins in the aftermath of the war with the Inviernos. Elisa is trying to convince both her Quorum and her kingdom that she is fit to be their king, even though she is not a native. Meanwhile the Inviernos begin their siege again, but this time with stealth and misdirection. Several attempts are made on Elisa's life, one almost claiming her. Mystery upon mystery unfolds as Elisa learns that the prophecy she thought she fulfilled may in fact be far from over. Belen and Father Alentin arrives from the east, bring more strife and questions with them. And hovering over it all is Elisa's growing love for Hector, a man she should not fall in love with. When a Invierno hiding in her own city tells Elisa that her destiny may lay in the south, at the source of all magic, she must decide where her future as woman and queen will lie.
This book really dug into the depths of the characters. Of course we already know Elisa very well, but we get to follow her continued growth as queen and bearer of the Godstone. Hector becomes a much more important character, and we get little glimpses into his life and background. Ximena and Mara both grow and change, until one is a better friend to Elisa, and the other not a friend at all. Belen too is given room to grow into more than just the betrayer. Even Prince Rosario is growing up, and realizing that he may not want to be king. The ghost of Alejandro hovers over the scene, but he is not overpowering: both the Quorum and the kingdom are ready for a new, stronger leader. But the question becomes: is Elisa that new, stronger leader?
As the story progresses enemies close in from all sides, even perhaps from within Elisa's own court. She searches for a consort, but finds herself hemmed in and controlled from all sides. She strives to right her kingdom after the last war and keep them from another. But indecision keep Elisa from embracing the strong position that she always encouraged Alejandro to take. In order for Elisa to truly become a queen, she must make a journey, and a sacrifice.
The Crown of Embers was a beautifully woven and written story. The characters leap to life off the page, and you are ever with Elisa, tethered to her heart and her dreams, wishing and praying for her on every page. The story twists and turns in unexpected ways, bringing to life again the magical kingdom in the desert, and the strange destiny laid out for those who bear the Godstone. A wonderful book, and a fantastic sequel. It will be torture to wait a year for book three.