Author: Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow (HarperCollins)
Released: September 20, 2011
Genre: YA Fantasy
Series: Yes (#2 Crown of Embers, #3 The Bitter Kingdom)
Elisa is the chosen one. But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can't see how she ever will. Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess. And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake. Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn't die young. Most of the chosen do.This book was recommended to me because I love Robin McKinley's Damar novels. And I immediately saw why. The two series are very similar, though each one has its own unique voice and style. It starts with a girl who thinks she's worthless and winds up being the most important person in the world. Along the way, there's kidnapping, royal marriages, intrigue, budding romance, stark loyalty, friendship, loss...
Elisa is so compelling right from the start, even as she's being obnoxiously insecure and finding comfort in food. I absolutely loved the food aspect, by the way. Because Elisa turns to food so often, there's a ton of mention of food throughout the book, and I loved the inventiveness as some foods were recognizable and some were completely novel and delightfully exotic (I'll pass on the rat soup, though, which apparently Elisa will too!). Her insecurities actually become the point of entry for us to identify with her, and the way the king treats her leaves us as confused as she is. She of course thinks there's a deeper reason for the king marrying her than her beauty, of which she assumes she has none, but when he appears to love her, she begins to tentatively hope. And though the king is far from a bad person, I couldn't help hating him a little as he was so blind to Elisa as a person needing love and acted kind in a way that cut deep.
The Godstone that rests in Elisa's navel is just as confusing. She thinks she gets help and responses from God, but she doubts it also, and she hates it at times for allowing her friends to die when she prays and it sends warmth as if it's accepting her prayer. Her relationship with the Godstone is central to the story, of course, and is essential to her growth.
Humberto is possibly the only person who doesn't act ambiguously. Elisa doesn't trust him at first, but I loved every scene that he was in, because he has such a quiet strength and is such a perfect gentleman. I sort of fell in love with him. Which makes what happens so much harder, of course, and I really hope Elisa finds a way out of it in the next book - like in the first few pages, maybe, please? Though I know that's not really possible.
But the main part of Elisa's journey is discovering her own worth and rising to the challenge presented to her, and I think her realization at the end of the book about the connection between her being chosen and her choosing to act is so heartwarming. And I can't wait to find out how it all plays out further...