The first two books in this series were easy to describe. In a Spain-esque fantasy land, a baby princess, Elisa, has a magical rock materialize in her belly-button. This marks her as chosen by God to fulfill some special but unknown mission. She grows up feeling unworthy, but is plunged into adventure and political machinations and grows up a lot, eventually coming to master her magical powers, learn to be a competent ruler, and come to a greater understanding of the world.

By the end of the second book, a number of intriguing revelations and plot twists alter the premises set up above, making a detailed description of book three highly spoilery. Specific notes go beneath the cut; spoilers will appear in comments.

Overall, I enjoyed this trilogy a lot. The world is vivid and intriguing, despite some jarring errors. (It was the one with the jerboa filets and the vomiting horses. On that note, warning for animal harm (poisoning horses for strategic purposes) and Scorpions of Unusual Size.) Actually, the fact that Carson did any worldbuilding at all unfortunately made the errors and blank spaces stand out more.

It has interesting characters and excellent narrative drive, and uses God or something which the characters believe is God in a non-obnoxious manner – that is, no “Come to Jesus,” no “religious people are morons,” and no “Surprise twist - God is a computer!”

The three books feel very different from each other, even though they end up telling a single complete story. The first book is primarily about character growth via a fish out of water narrative, the second book is about learning to rule and expanding the world, and the third book is a classic quest narrative and also about the costs and moral compromises involved in being a ruler. As a whole, the trilogy touches on all those aspects, but character growth most of all. The Elisa of the first book is a completely different person by the end of the trilogy.

My biggest problem with the final novel is that by the end of the second book, I was primarily interested in the world and how it had come to be. By the end of the third book, a few questions were answered and more were implied, but a whole bunch of the most intriguing questions were never addressed.

As if Carson knew exactly what I was thinking, on literally the last page Elisa rattles off a list of questions which she says are still unknown. I guess I’m glad that Carson noticed that she’d raised a lot of intriguing issues that were never addressed, but I would have liked to have her actually address them. Especially since I was more interested in the worldbuilding than in the political maneuvering which took up the final third of the book.

The Bitter Kingdom (Girl of Fire and Thorns)

I liked Hector's point of view. It was successfully different from Elisa's. I also really enjoyed Storm and the other Inviernos. I wish the entire thing had been about that conflict rather than about Forgettable Joyan Dude taking over the kingdom.

The explanations we did get of the complicated relationships between the Inviernos and the Joyans were interesting, so it was frustrating that so much was left unexplained and unexplored. I guess the Joyans were colonists from another planet, and got interrupted halfway through terraforming. I'm OK with not learning the exact details of where they came from, why they were there, and what went wrong with the terraforming, but I did want to know...

How come blending the species made some Joyans able to carry living Godstones, while the Inviernos' fell out? How come the Joyans' Godstones magically materialize while the Inviernos were born with theirs? Why did half the animagi class vanish crossing the glass window that Elisa blew up? The Inviernos are clearly not human - are the Joyans human? If the Joyans had to be modified to survive on this alien world, are all the plants and animals also modified? Why does God give the Joyan Godstone bearers special missions, but not the Inviernos?

I liked that Elisa's God-sent mission had nothing whatsoever to do with the main storyline, and remained inexplicable.

That being said... if God is the life-force/magic of the planet, which seems the most likely explanation, then is it sentient? Why does it work the way it does? Why did it think it was important to make Elisa create an oasis? What is its actual agenda?

From: [identity profile]

The first book seemed to be going so firmly in the "Surprise! God is a computer!" direction that I haven't read the others. I did like that first one, but I could kind of see where the relationships were going, and yeah, the world building seemed a tad sketchy. (Loved the pacing, though, and some of the side characters I really loved.)

From: [identity profile]

God is definitely not a computer. It's never revealed what God is. It could literally be God, but the most likely candidate is the life-force or spirit of the planet.

From: [identity profile]

Now I'm intrigued. I thought it was trudging in the Rosemary Kirstein (fine books, but . . ) direction, you know, you think it's fantasy, but no! There is a mundane reason for everything because this is HARD SCIENCE FICTION! (Like that is a trump card.)

From: [identity profile]

Wow, that's not how I saw the Kirstein books at all. The first book does reveal that they're hard science fiction rather than fantasy, but not in a one-note way. I thought they were the opposite of reductionist: the world becomes more interesting and complex, not less.

That being said, yes, some aspects of Carson's world have science fictional explanations. But the magic probably is still magic. I'd call them science fantasy.

From: [identity profile]

No, what I meant was, Kirstein started off a sub genre for a while-- I remember reading several fantasies that actually turned out to be sf, with a (boring) explanation for all the gosh-wow, in a tone of surprise!--through the late eighties and nineties when I was on the nebula jury several years running.

I should have finished that thought: Kirstein's books were excellent, but her mimics weren't so much.

From: [identity profile]

I was lucky enough to miss those. ;) I did read multiple examples of "Surprise! God is a computer!!!"

From: [identity profile]

I really loved the first two books, but it's like I had lost the mojo before I read the third. Maybe I had needed to re-read up to the third before I started it.

I DID love the oasis part, and about how her purpose wasn't the arc of the story line. That part was neat.

From: [identity profile]

Also, I appreciated a fantasy set in a non-England-esque setting. Camels, and dates, and dark skinned protagonists, oh my!

From: [identity profile]

Finally got to this. I tend to agree with your opinions on it. I too cared more about the unanswered questions than about the usurper (especially since we don't even see him until the end of the book - I know he was in the others but I really didn't remember him). And the worldbuilding does have a lot of holes in it, particularly when you look at the map.

I appreciate that we get a map, but it just brings up the same question I had reading the second book - in two thousand years no Invierno has bothered to travel north or south beyond the Joyan kingdoms and head to the sea that way? Very hard to believe. For that matter, I find it hard to believe that the Invierne didn't occupy all the land outside the Joyan kingdoms before the Joyans showed up, given that they are the native species. Why would they just live in that small area? It's small enough that I also can't imagine that the Joyans haven't spread farther than they have in two thousand years.

From: [identity profile]

Yeah, the worldbuilding is vivid and interesting, which I appreciate, but not really carefully thought-out.

I could not recall the usurper either.

From: [identity profile]

I forgot so much of the second book I went looking for a summary before starting the third, but I couldn't find one. I remembered that they found the magic island with the ancient Invierno guardian and Elisa wrecked the place (i.e., the interesting part), but not the whole usurpation plot.

Which reminds me, Storm never did get his magic manacles off. That seems unfair. And I hope Alodia isn't into BDSM because he must be heartily sick of restraints by now.

From: [identity profile]

And I hope Alodia isn't into BDSM because he must be heartily sick of restraints by now.

Ha ha, poor guy. I completely forgot about Storm's manacles! I am pretty sure Carson did too. If I'd been writing it, I would have milked those manacles for all they were worth.

It was a bit convenient that Storm was instantly smitten with Alodia.

All I remember about the second book were the parts you mention. I think there was also a ninja attack at some point. And magical birth control.

From: [identity profile]

Carson remembers them when she feels like it, it seems. They're mentioned once or twice early, then I don't think again until he and Hector invade the castle.

The point is made that Alodia looks almost like an Invierno, so it's easier to swallow than Storm falling for a random Joyan woman, but yes, it was pretty convenient.

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