Friday, May 23, 2014

Book Review: The Bitter Kingdom

Confused why there was no review Wednesday? I started thinking about what I wanted to say about the first volume of Inu x Boku SS and realized I had absolutely nothing. And trying to spin that out would be a terrible review so I decided to just cancel it instead of trying to scramble and rearrange my schedule, hopefully that won't happen again soon since I am really trying to cut those ones out of my review list!

Last year I had a chance to read The Girl of Fire and Thorns and really liked it and wished I had been following the series as it came out instead of playing this mad catch-up with it, especially since I did try to write each review before I read the next book but that didn't work out. I was a bit discouraged by the second book but hoped that the third book would be stronger (especially since it was not The Middle Book In A Series) and I had a chance to read the short stories Carson wrote with the series. They're fun but not necessary to understand the books, especially since some of the character writing (like with Elisa's sister) felt a bit inconsistent with the other books.

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

Elisa is in a tricky situation, she faces a coup within her kingdom and a threat from outside it as well, the only good thing to come from it is that it's forced her to face her feelings for her guard Hector and declare him her betrothed. She'll have to go to hell and back to save him and her kingdom but with her god-given growing powers she's more than willing to do that.

This book was rather awkward in a lot of places, especially since it had four or five mini conflicts/resolutions and yet no one over-arching climax to tie them together. Several of them made sense logically ("oh I can see why this happened so that this can happen later") but just weren't foreshadowed enough in the earlier books to make them fit in tonally, and considering how much time the second book spent just flaffing around I'm a little grumpy about it! I feel like in some ways the story created too many loose ends for itself and should have been simpler for a tidier resolution, and yet the story ended up tying up every last detail. The good guys get a satisfactory ending and hope that things will go well for them in the future, yet on some level I felt like that it was too neat of an ending, especially since it doesn't mesh with Elisa's goals. While she might have grown a lot throughout this entire series her goals never really changed or grew along with her, seeing her with so many things at the end that she never had to fight tooth and nail to get just felt incongruent (especially since she had to trample on some of her most important relationships to do so).

Did I like anything about the book then? Sure, I still like Elisa as a well-rounded, realistic heroine of her story (and the book only focused on her appearance at the very end when she's happy with herself, hurray!) and I have consistently liked how the romance between her and Hector was written and I'm rather happy about that, even if it might have been a tad bit too neat. I also liked that, while Carson hinted rather strongly that the Joyans are actually humans who terraformed an alien world and that the Inverinos are the planet's natural, altered inhabitants that it's never completely confirmed, if it had been I would have been howling that the idea should have been introduced in the first book since that would have been way too many things to tie up in even four hundred pages. But despite that, I think I would have liked this series much more if it had in fact ended with the first book (with a tiny alteration or two to smooth out the ending) since the other two books never quite lived up to that potential I saw in the ending. It's interesting to watch a character start to chance but it takes a truly skilled writer to keep the audience interested in that after they've made significant progress and the book just doesn't quiet pull it off. I do still recommend the series but this is one of the few times I wish it was shorter than it actually was!

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