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?
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