Like a River Glorious by Rae Carson

Like a River Glorious, by Rae Carson, was published in 2016 by Greenwillow. It is the sequel to Walk on Earth a Stranger.

Lee Westfall survived the dangerous journey to California. She found a new family in the other outcasts of their wagon train, and Jefferson, her best friend, is beginning to woo her shamelessly. Now they have a real home—one rich in gold, thanks to Lee’s magical ability to sense the precious metal in the world around her. But Lee’s Uncle Hiram has survived his own journey west. He’s already murdered her parents, and he will do anything to have Lee and her talents under his control. No one is safe. When he kidnaps her, she sees firsthand the depths of his depravity. Lee’s magic is changing, though. It is growing. The gold no longer simply sings to her—it listens. It obeys her call. Will that alone be enough to destroy her uncle?

Rating: 2/5

All my worries about a potential sequel to Walk on Earth a Stranger, a book that stood alone with little to carry into another book, came to fruition in Like a River Glorious, which is ultimately a pointless sequel that tells the same story as the first book, only without the going west part.

The only character change in this book is that Leah’s gold-seeking changes in depth and power. Otherwise, the characters are the same: Hiram is flatly evil, and little is revealed about his relationship to Leah’s parents or why he killed them (specifically, why he killed Leah’s mother, since it seems pointless to have done so. Carson reiterates over and over that women are powerless in the eyes of the law, so there’s really no reason for Hiram to have killed Leah’s mother. Rage, perhaps, at her apparent betrayal?). Jefferson is typical Love Interest Boy, meaning he’s uninteresting, and Leah spends most of the book being criticized for what other people are doing.

Speaking of the latter, Carson uses this book as a mouthpiece for her modernistic ideas of 1849, and spends the majority of the events making sure the reader knows exactly how Leah is responsible for the abuse of Native Americans and how she should feel terrible about it, and how people should feel guilty for owning land and never own land because it all belongs to the Native Americans.

By the way, Carson, I hope you’re practicing what you preach and don’t own any land yourself.

Also, wow, does she take some liberties with history. Some of it is explained away at the end in an author’s note (mostly consisting of “I wanted to bring this to light earlier than when it actually happened so it would fit my narrative”), but Carson conveniently left out the fact that women could actually own property at that time, despite the many, many times it’s stated to the contrary in the novel.

Highlighting the abuses of the time isn’t a bad thing, but filtering it through modernistic views is problematic. And regardless of accuracy of depiction, Carson’s constant preaching and guilt-tripping only caused me to want to never pick up the last book in the trilogy. I also can’t see what would be in a third book, since once again, everything is wrapped up neatly in this book.

Like a River Glorious reminded me of what I hate about young adult literature: the constant authorial preaching, the filtering of events through modern lenses, pointless romance, and the manipulation of historical data to fit one’s particular narrative. I have no desire to pick up the last novel in the trilogy, or read anything by Carson ever again.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult

“Slow down,” I tell Olive. “You have to let the gold settle. Do you see it?”

“Where?” she asks.

All I mean to do is point, but it seems as though the flake lifts out of the water and sticks to my finger, just as if I called it. It’s the strangest feeling, like a static shock when it touches my skin.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2ttmBwS

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Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Walk on Earth a Stranger, by Rae Carson, was published in 2015 by Greenwillow.

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more. She also has a secret. Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it. When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

Rating: 3/5

Some of my least favorite tropes (and probably everyone else’s favorite tropes) are present in Walk on Earth a Stranger: a girl who dresses up as a boy, a girl who doesn’t follow historical/traditional female roles, and enough modern-day social justice to satisfy the people who want modern thought imposed on their historical fiction.

Leah is not my favorite type of protagonist, but Carson is a good enough writer that I didn’t immediately dislike her despite the presence of tropes I dislike. I did find her overbearing, patronizing, and at times almost narrow-minded. Someone so compassionate about slaves while growing up in the South is also completely dispassionate in terms of religion and traditional female roles. The former could have to do with Carson’s portrayal of Reverend Lowrey, which was almost laughable in its extremes and stereotypes. As for the latter, well, Leah herself seemed to hold contradicting points: at one point, she decried anything that would make her beholden to a man and then the next minute, she was thinking about her relationship with Jefferson and wanting to marry him.

But perhaps I’m being too harsh. I did enjoy the book, though I can’t imagine how Carson is going to make a trilogy out of it. In my mind, the book could have been a stand-alone (with some slight changes, of course). I suppose there’s a little bit to explore in sequels: the mystery of Leah’s parents’ past and the presence of Uncle Hiram. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a trilogy without a love triangle, so I’m fully expecting some new character to come in and sweep Leah off her feet before she realizes in the third book that Jefferson is The One.

I do love Oregon Trail stories, though, and this one is a good one—lots of danger, realistic scenarios, and compelling enough characters to carry the plot through when it could have slowed down.

Walk on Earth a Stranger is full of tropes I don’t like, but despite all that, I ended up enjoying this Oregon Trail/Gold Rush adventure. I’m hoping Carson doesn’t fall prey to more overused tropes in the next two books, and also that Leah becomes a character that I can actually relate to, but at least I’m intrigued enough to see what happens next.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult

“I have a gold half eagle in one hand. Which is it?” There’s a twinkle in his eye that reminds me so much of Daddy that my chest hurts.

The coin sings to me clear as spring runoff from his left fist. I point to the right.

He smiles. “You can’t keep secrets from me, Leah.”

I sigh and point to the left.

“That’s my girl.” He opens his fist, and there it is, shining yellow-bright.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2BPc1iP

The Bitter Kingdom: Grand Finale

The Bitter Kingdom is written by Rae Carson. It was published in 2013 by Greenwillow. It is the last book in the Fire and Thorns trilogy. I reviewed the first two books here and here. Carson’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Elisa is a fugitive.
Her enemies have stolen the man she loves, and they await her at the gate of darkness. Her country is on the brink of civil war, with her own soldiers ordered to kill her on sight.
Her Royal Majesty, Queen Lucero-Elisa né Riqueza de Vega, bearer of the Godstone, will lead her three loyal companions deep into the enemy’s kingdom, a land of ice and snow and brutal magic, to rescue Hector and win back her throne. Her power grows with every step, and the shocking secrets she will uncover in this, her final journey, could change the course of history.
But that is not all. She has a larger destiny. She must become the champion the world has been waiting for.
Even of those who hate her most.”
~Inside Flap

What I Liked:

One of the things I like most about this trilogy is the character development. Elisa is an awesome queen in this book. She’s taken everything she’s learned in the first two books and used it to do some really fantastic things in regards to saving everybody. She is not the same girl who started out The Girl of Fire and Thorns, and she is not even the same girl who started out The Crown of Embers. That’s one thing I like about trilogies, the ability to do such long character arcs and development.

The other thing I like about this trilogy is that, for once, it’s not a love at first sight romance. It’s (relatively) slow and, again, built over the trilogy as a whole. I also like the character types that are used in this romance, so that’s another plus.

I wish I had remembered the plot of the trilogy more, because there were some pretty cool revelations that I probably would have reacted to more if I had actually remembered the previous books. In any case, the plot progression was nice.

Haha, Storm and Alodia. That will be an interesting match.

Cover Art

What I Didn’t Like:

I read all three of these books really far apart from each other, so when I read this book I only had a vague recollection of what had happened in the previous. It left me feeling a bit clueless the entire time. One of these days I will have to read them again, back-to-back, so I get the full experience of plot and character development.

Hector was rescued really quickly. I was honestly expecting that part to be a bit more dragged out. Also, don’t ask me why, but it actually kinda bothered me when Elisa discovered that Hector had loved her “before she was anyone.” I think it might be because that’s just a little too perfect of a thing to say. Hector overall is a pretty perfect character, so I think that revelation just made him a bit too unbelievable for a moment.

What the heck is up with fantasy books making up their own special herb contraception? It’s like, “Oh, we can’t have our characters actually wait a few days until they’re married. No, no, they love each other, and when people love each other they immediately jump into bed. Let’s just make up something so that they can have “safe” sex.” And then the special magic herb is inevitably named something incredibly trite like “maidenseed” or “lady’s shroud.” Please. Really, Elisa, you couldn’t have waited one day until your wedding?

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Sexual situations, violence, and disturbing images of torture and wounds

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

I look around at my companions. “This might be it. The gate of the enemy. None of you are required to accompany me. It’s your choice.”
Belén shrugs. “It’s a perfect plan.”
“As easy as falling love,” Mara adds.
“Foolproof,” Hector agrees.
I don’t deserve such friends. I blink against the sting of threatening tears and say, “All you Joyans are filthy liars.”
~Carson 151

“What is it, Skinny Girl?” Belén asks.
She gives him a shy smile. “I have decided on a name.”
I sit forward. “Oh?”
“My name,” she says with a lift of her chin, “is Red Sparkle Stone.”
No one makes a sound. There is only the popping of the fire, the rush of wind, the pawing of a horse.
Finally, I manage. “Well. That is indeed a strong and…unique name.”
Mula’s—no, Red Sparkle Stone’s—face lights up. “I knew you’d like it! Red is my favorite color. And sparkle stones are strong. The strongest thing there is. I was thinking you should call me Red, the same way Storm’s whole name is too important to say all the time.”
Oh, thank God. “Red it is, then,” I say, and I look around at our companions, daring contradiction. Mara looks stunned. Storm and Waterfall are wholly indifferent. Hector and Belén are trying very hard not to laugh.
~Carson 251

Overall Review:

The Bitter Kingdom finishes off what turned out to be a wonderful trilogy of character development. Hector and Elisa are really cute (until the end when I was just annoyed) and the romance is nice and slow by YA standards. I had a few problems with it, especially with the resolution, but overall, the trilogy is pretty great.

You can buy this book here: The Bitter Kingdom (Girl of Fire and Thorns)

Coming Up Next: Shakespeare’s Secret by Elise Broach

The Crown of Embers: Romance With A Dash of Character Growth

The Crown of Embers is written by Rae Carson. It was published in 2012 by Greenwillow Books. It is the sequel to The Girl of Fire and Thrones (which I reviewed here) and a third book, The Bitter Kingdom, is still to come. Carson’s website can be found here.

Genre: Fantasy

Summary/Blurb:

“Elisa is a hero.

She led her people to victory over a terrifying, sorcerous army. Her place as the country’s ruler should be secure. But it isn’t.

Her enemies come at her like ghosts in a dream, from foreign realms and even from within her own court. And her destiny as the chosen one has not yet been fulfilled.

To conquer the power she bears, once and for all, Elisa must follow a trail of long-forgotten—and forbidden—clues from the deep, hidden catacombs of her own city to the treacherous seas. With her go a one-eyed spy, a traitor, and the man whom—despite everything—she is falling in love with.

If she’s lucky, she will return from this journey. But there will be a cost.”

~Inside Flap

Passages/Quotes:

“A ceiling beam catches my eye, toppled across a pile of adobe rubble. At one end the wood grain shows pristine, but it blackens along its length, shrinking and shriveling until it ends in a ragged stump glowing red with embers. A wisp of smoke curls into the air.

The outer ring is rife with these glowing reminders of the war we won at such a cost. Months later, we still cannot wholly quench their fire. Father Nicandro, my head priest, says that since magic caused these fires, only magic can cool them. Either magic or time.

My city may burn for a hundred years.”

~Carson 6

“I’d like to teach you to use some kind of weapon,” he says. “Maybe a quarterstaff?”

“A quarterstaff is not very subtle,” I say. “Or handy. If a kidnapper comes at me, what am I supposed to do? Say, ‘Excuse me, my lord, while I pull my enormous quarterstaff out of my bodice?’”

~Carson 127

Warnings: Violence and kissing, as well as displays of homosexuality that may be perfectly fine for some but may not be for others

Recommended Age Range: 15+

Rating: 4/5

Cover Art

What I Liked:

I love the world Carson has built, with its customs, people, cultures, and the like. The political intrigue is marvelous; it’s suspenseful but not too overdone, and Elisa really grows in this area throughout the novel, realizing her mistakes and recognizing that she needs to do more.

The moment I finished the first book and read the summary for this one, I immediately said, “I know who her love interest will be.” And I was right. I absolutely loved the romance in this book, although in some parts it can be annoying and a little heavy-handed.

The ending was, I thought, a real indication of the growth of Elisa as a character. I thought Carson did a marvelous job with really demonstrating Elisa’s strength and will, as well as her knowledge about what she needed and what she wanted. Simply put, Elisa was great in the last twenty pages.

What I Didn’t Like:

As I mentioned above, the romance does get a bit tedious. Also, how old is spoiler anyway? I kept getting different ways of viewing him: at first I thought he was in his early 30s, but then Carson kept saying how young and boyish he looked, so now I’m thinking early 20s, but he knew the king when the king was a boy, so maybe late 20s?

I also was a bit confused about the whole writing on the wall part in the beginning of the book. I have no idea why it was there, or how they went from that to the main goal of the plot.

Overall Review:

The Crown of Embers is a great continuation of the world set up by The Girl of Fire and Thorns. It’s heavier on the romance, which is, at different times, both a good thing and a bad thing, but the character growth is well done and fantastic to read about, and the ending certainly leaves you wanting to read the final book.

Coming Up Next: Magyk by Angie Sage

The Girl of Fire and Thorns: Spanish Fantasy

Note: This week starts the beginning of my twice a week posts (I said biweekly before, but that actually means once every two weeks. English major fail). I’m aiming for Tuesdays and Fridays, but this might change depending on my schedule.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns is Rae Carson’s first novel, published in 2011 by Greenwillow Books. It is the first of an intended trilogy. The second book, The Crown of Embers, comes out September 18, 2012. Her website can be found here.

Cover Art


Genre: Fantasy

Summary/Blurb:

“Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses. The one who has never done anything remarkable, and 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 her to be 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 ways 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.”

Passages/Quotes:

“Prince Rosario looks up from his father’s lap. Such a sweet face with gentle lines, wide eyes, and spider-leg lashes. He looks me over, his eyes grow rounder, and he says in a high voice clear as monastery bells, “You’re fat.”

Sharp intakes of breath. Then silence, taut and heavy. Alejandro’s face is frozen, and the hand clutching his son’s tiny shoulder whitens. Surely the entire nobility can hear my heart beating, my every breath. For a brief moment, I consider feeling, but even in my shocked state, I know things would be worse for me if I did.

So I do the only thing I can.

I laugh.”

~Carson 111

Warnings: Violence/war

Recommended Age Range: 13+

Rating: 5/5

What I Liked:

I really enjoyed the setting of this book. The main country where most of the plot takes place is obviously based on Spanish culture/language. The country is called Joya D’Arena, with cities like Brisadulce and Basajuan, and names like Alejandro, Rosario, Elisa, Cosmé, and Humberto. There is the Lengua Classica, the Holy Language, and the Lengua Plebeya. The Lengua Classica is obviously Spanish, with a few small alterations (which may be simply the Inviernes’ dialect): “Né hay ninguno iqui” (238) and “Lo Chato né sería feliz si alquino nos escapría” (238). Beautiful, beautiful language and setting. The main character Elisa is a breath of fresh air. She is not a fighter; she is fat and likes to eat. She does, however, know strategy (and is the “chosen one”). Her growth through the novel is wonderful to watch as she learns how to be a princess, a leader, and a queen. Her relationship with Rosario is lovely.

Carson isn’t afraid of making her characters suffer when it’s necessary; she isn’t afraid of (spoiler??) Killing Her Darlings. This makes the situations scarier, more realistic, and more sorrowful. It makes the characters more real. This was one of the more unique YA fantasies I’ve read, and I loved it.

What I Didn’t Like:

The last Big Reveal of the book was a bit confusing to me; I actually didn’t understand it until I closed the book and thought about it a little bit. This was more likely my fault than Carson’s, however. Also, the inside flap does not do justice to this book at all.

Overall Review:

If you love Spanish settings/culture, you’ll most likely enjoy this book. It’s a great unique fantasy with a beautiful setting, great background and customs, and a likeable female lead. It’s a bit violent (they are at war) and there are some gross injury descriptions, but those are easily skipped if need be.

Coming Up Next: Frost by Marianna Baer