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Mini Reviews: Warrior by Ellen Oh and The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

More mini-reviews to whet your appetite! This time, historical action fiction with Warrior by Ellen Oh and The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson.

First up, Warrior by Ellen Oh.

Book Synopsis: Kira, demon slayer and outcast for her yellow eyes, is just barely home from protecting her cousin, the Crown Prince, and assisting her uncle and the Iron Army defeat the invaders and protect the throne. Trying to unite the kingdoms, all seems to be going well- until a surprise attack fronted by the Demon Lord kills the King Uncle and throws the Seven Kingdoms into chaos. With the Crown Prince’s right to the throne challenged, Kira must again quest to find the sacred relics of the Dragon Warrior in order to save her homeland- and her family.

My thoughts: I fell in love with Prophecy, the lyrical approach to the story and the immersion to detail Oh gives to her characters. Warrior does not stray from that style- the details of Korean life, the twists and fast pacing make this an engaging read for those who want an adventure story. Kira is still searching for herself, and trying to figure out whether she can be girl and warrior, and that stays very true in the book- her relationships are awkward and she really doesn’t know how to be anything but the fighter and demon slayer, although she is starting to come out of her shell. Other characters are built as well, and back-stories are filled in that tug at heartstrings. I am definitely excited for the next book to come out.

Next, The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
Book Synopsis:  The third and final book in the Girl of Fire and Thorns series, Elisa has braved her powers, sorcery, and winning over a kingdom. Now she must move into the territory of the enemy itself to save her love and her kingdom. Journeying to the lands of Invierne, Elisa hopes to destroy the source of their magic and make a pact for peace while rescuing Hector, her true love. Then off to the Basajuan desert to stop the war effort between kingdoms, and finally to her own Kingdom in order to destroy a traitor and take back her throne. All the while, Elisa must learn the full power of her Godstone, as well as her own power within if they are all to survive.

My thoughts: I have been a huge fan of this series since the beginning- finally a heroine who was less than perfect, smart, cunning, and an actual, normal size! Carson takes her time weaving through all the elements of the story, from rescuing Hector, to meeting up with Elisa’s sister and best friend (both Queens in their own rights), and finally sneaking into Elisa’s kingdom in order to set things to right. I adore the fact that Elisa must save everyone with “her only lasting power- her smarts”- that is something that every reader needs to take to heart. I was more than happy with the Hector/Elisa storyline, even though some readers might get a little antsy at the sexy bits (not a lot of sexy but still there is more than the previous books). There were two things I could have wished for that would have been explained in more detail: the relationship between Elisa and her sister (it’s briefly touched upon when they meet up to fight the war, but with the sister having been a big part of the first book, I wish there was more resolution) and the discussion of how close Elisa’s people and the Invierne are genetically, and how they came to be on that world (again, briefly touched upon, but I want more). I can hope that there will be additional books in this world.

Take 5: Late Summer/ Fall 2013 Books Christie is Looking Forward To

One of the best things I like about conferences is getting ahold of ARCs. Yes, you can get eARCS but sometimes I just like paper. I may be techie but sometimes I’m old-fashioned. And I flew Southwest this past conference, so instead of the huge post office line, I checked ALL of my ARCs. Love the two free checked bags! Here are five of the titles that I am absolutely looking forward to coming out….

Third in the Circle Reforged series, this picks up the story of Briar, Rosethorn and Evvy as they face dangers in unexpected places, and war on all fronts. Expected publication October 2013.

First in a new series by the author of Anna Dressed in Blood, Athena and Hermes try to solve the mystery of their slow deaths, only to find enemies and allies in unsuspected places. Can Cassandra hold the key to it all? Expected publication September 2013.

Final book in the Fire and Thorn Series, can Elisa save her kingdom, her love, and discover her true destiny? Expected publication date August 2013.

When Tana wakes up from a party to discover that she, her boyfriend (on the edge and infected with the vampire virus) and a boy who won’t divulge his secrets are the only survivors, she has to save them in a race against the cold in the only way she knows how- straight into Coldtown. Expected publication date September 2013.

First of the Legion series, Kennedy must take her mother’s place in the Legion if she wants to uncover the truth of her mother’s death and stay alive, racing to find the weapon that might be able to destroy the demon aiming for her and her companions. Expected publication date October 2013.

What awesome titles are you drooling over for late summer/fall?  Share! Share!

Book Review: Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

I clench my jaw. He won’t do as I ask because my input is valuable, or even because I am his queen. He’ll only agree to consult me because it will make me feel better?

The general turns to go. “Wait.”

He whirls, and it’s possible I imagine his flitting look of impatience.

God, what do I say to this man? How can I convey that I am the sovereign and he is not? That even though I come from a foreign land, these are my people?

The Godstone leaps in response to my prayer, and an answer floats to me gently on the afternoon breeze.

Sorrow comes easily to my voice when I say, “I lost so may people I loved in the war with Invierne. We all did. But the only reason we survive to mourn is because our army fought bravely and selflessly. And no one fought harder than my own Royal Guard, who held off the invaders at tremendous cost so I could have time to work the Godstone’s magic.” I hope he hears what I’m not saying: Yes, General, we won the day because of me, remember? “I’ll not see them doubted or disrespected. In fact, I’ll defend each on of them with my dying breath if I must, as they defended me. Am I clear?”

In the second of the Fire and Thorn series by Rae Carson (for a review of the first, go here), readers find Elisa now queen of Joya d’Arena, a war hero to be celebrated after defeating the Inverne. Yet the danger is far from over, as Elisa finds sorcerers throughout the kingdom as well as traitors within her mists who feel the kingdom would be better served by a true noble of the realm, and not a jumped up girl. Battling politics as much as invaders, kidnappings and assassination attempts, Elisa decides to follow her birthright and destiny as it holds the key to everything: the power of her Godstone, what the sorcerers of the Inverne want, and even the soul of the world and the magic within. Yet the dangers along the way may be too much for Elisa to bear.

Elisa’s struggles of trying to fit in definitely reflect the struggles of any teen, and Carson doesn’t lose what made Elisa so real in the first place- that she is imperfect, struggling with the fact that she’s not classically beautiful, that she’s always questioning what’s right and wrong, and how to win things without causing irrefutable harm. Elisa continues to grow throughout the book, and it’s wonderful to see her growing into herself and into her powers, as a woman, a Godstone bearer, and a queen.  The supporting cast are fleshed out with their own set of quirks, and add a real backdrop and depth to the story, adding to the world of Joya d’Arena and beyond. Definitely give to readers of Tamera Pierce, Kirsten Cashore, and other lovers of fantasy adventure. 4 out of 5 stars.

Spoiler Space

I am in love with Elisa- she is a real person, with real problems and issues, and deals with them in logical ways. Carson could have magically made her beautiful in the end of the Crown of Fire and Thorns, but she didn’t- Elisa still struggles with her weight and the fact that she’s not the ideal person. The fact that no one will take her seriously in her own court, even though she defeated the sorcerer in the CASTLE is something that would happen because A. she’s foreign, B. she’s 17, and oh yea, C. she’s a GIRL. The fact that Hector and the guard is backing her gives her more muscle that she would have otherwise, and she uses them wisely.

And I adore Hector. He seems to be more than the first crush that she had in the first book, and I can really, secretly hope that in the third one there are rainbows and butterflies and soaring music with kisses.

Especially in light of the culture we live in, I like that Elisa’s first thoughts aren’t for violence.  Now, she has a very devious mind and can get as vicious as she needs to be, which is very much needed at times.  However, it doesn’t seem to be her first way of thinking, which is very nice and needed sometimes. It seems like more and more we’re being forced to think about attack and violence first, when we need to think about other avenues.

There were some very good twists and turns and death to a major character that I didn’t see coming, which I always love in a book.  Rae is going to be one of my stalking authors at conventions (sorry Rae), and will have to get pictures with the Pirate and Ninja Monkey for my teens.  I’m extremely looking forward to The Bitter Kingdom, which comes out in 2013, and need to track down the short story that goes along with this series that is floating around in electronic format.

Reviewed by Christie G, who likes to make authors take pictures with her monkeys

Book Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

“When Papa dies, she will be queen of Orovalle.  She wants to rule and I do not, so it is ironic that by marrying King Alejandro, I will be queen of a country twice as large, twice as rich.  I don’t know why I am the one marrying.  Surely Joya d’Arena’s king would have chosen the beautiful daughter, the queenly one. My mouth freezes, midchew, as I realize that he probably did.
I am the counteroffer.” – Girl of Fire and Thorns, Rae Carson

Fire and Thorns #1
Greenwillow Press September 2011
ISBN: 9780062026484
16 year old Elise is the first bearer of the Godstone in over a century.  A direct link to their god, the Bearer is said to have a great and mystical destiny- if only she can figure out what it is.  After being married in secret to King Alejandro to cement a war-time alliance, Elise discovers that she’s not to be welcomed into Joya d’Arena as the new queen, but merely the neighboring visiting princess.  War threatens from every angle, and when Elise starts to trust her intelligence in her new land, she is kidnapped by insurgents who think the Bearer can save their people from destruction from the invaders.  Through it all, Elise has to learn to trust herself and use her cleverness in order to outwit everyone in order to do what is best for the land.
What makes Elise truly unique in female hero literature (sheroes books, via Tamera Pierce) is not that she has a divine destiny, but really her battle with self-esteem and her weight.  Coddled and pampered for the beginning of her life, she starts out unsure of herself, her purpose, and is what we would call today morbidly obese and an emotional eater.  (If you’re not familiar with it, it’s extremely common no matter what your weight- have that craving for chocolate when you’re stressed?  Emotional eating.  The problem comes when you act upon it, and act upon it in abundance.  More info here:  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/weight-loss/MH00025)
If Elise’s upset, if she’s nervous, if she’s bored, she eats, even though the food doesn’t have any taste.  Carson describes how Elise tears the seams of her wedding dress, then heads to the kitchen to indulge in pastries. She gorges during her wedding feast because she doesn’t know what to say.  When Elisa arrives in Joya d’Arena, none of the clothes available even come close to fitting her; she then goes down to breakfast and feasts through the buffet even though things are a blur.  It’s not until Elise is kidnapped and she can’t rely on those physical comforts that she starts to turn things around.  We see bits in the beginning- saving her maid and the Prince’s life during an attack, and showing her intelligence throughout her time in Joya d’Arena, but she really doesn’t come into herself until she loses the food crutch.
Once she does, she blossoms.  She falls in love that is worthy of her, proves herself to be as daring and courageous as anyone could want in a girl power book.  And while she does lose a substantial amount of weight (forced off through a diet of rat stew and desert rations), Carson makes sure to point out that Elise will never attain the slimness of others that was held up to her (as is to teen and adults today) as the ideal. 
“I am not even close to thin.  Certainly not beautiful like Alodia or Cosmé.  But I don’t have to part my breasts or press into my stomach to see my Godstone.  I still crave honey pastries, by my head doesn’t pound to think of them.  I can walk all day without getting a rash.
I can walk all day.
I lie back in the water and float, smiling up at sparkling stalactites, at shafts of aquamarine light that pour through clefts in the rock.  When Cosmé returns to fetch me, I tell her I need more time.
I’m not done being naked.” – Rae Carson
The Girl of Fire and Thorns ends in a nail biter that I’m not going to reveal (massive spoilers, sweetie!), but sets up the second in the series, The Crown of Embers (coming out September 18), wonderfully.  I’d recommend Girl of Fire and Thorns to anyone who loves the works of Tamera Pierce and Kristin Cashore, and readers who devoured books like Eon and Eona by Alison Goodman.

Be sure to check out some of our other posts on our ongoing discussion on Teens and Obesity in Teen Fiction: