Other than the fact that I fully expected this book to be amazing, I didn’t really have any expectations for The Crown of Embers. In fact, I didn’t even read the blurb before picking up the book, so I hadn’t really a clue what direction Rae was going to take Elisa & Co. in this time around. Sometimes I enjoy being surprised by an author, putting my faith in the fact that he or she is a fantastic storyteller and being willing to go wherever the author chooses to take the story. This was definitely one of those times. Rich, luscious and immense in scale, The Crown of Embersboasts both a story and world that's utterly captivating. It was the same with The Girl of Fire and Thorns, hence my expectations for “amazing” coming into this second book. The Crown of Embers is grand, adventurous, sweeping and epic. There’s a lot of story here – a lot of ground covered, both figuratively and literally. And yet while it’s a story that’s large and grand, it’s also incredibly intricate. Rae’s attention to detail, her gorgeous descriptions, her artful prose, the little intrigues, the delicate machinations of the court, even down to her characters’ minor physical mannerisms – it’s just so well done and brings a great deal of realism and depth to both her characters and world. Elisa. Her time with the rebels has prepared her well for leadership; but in the wake of her husband Alejandro’s death she suddenly finds herself the full and rightful queen of Joya d’Arena. Not exactly a situation she’s fully prepared for. Once again, she’s thrown into circumstances that requires her to adapt… and quickly, because there are those that would see her deposed and/or her power weakened. And this time, she doesn’t just have a handful of rebels looking to her for guidance, but an entire kingdom depending on her for their livelihood, well-being, and safety. A daunting prospect, to be sure. And because of all this, Elisa finds herself constantly battling insecurities old and new, those nagging feelings of inadequacy, doubt in her abilities, fighting her personal loneliness, never knowing who she can trust, always needing to be aware of the image she projects. Her fears and need to be seen as a strong ruler lead to some decisions that are questionable, causing her to be a ruler that’s being led by political advantage rather than a queen ruling by conviction of character. Elisa has always been a person aware of her personal failings, and she’s always felt that she as a person has never been enough, and I love how Rae has continued Elisa’s personal journey toward self-realization, self-confidence, self-empowerment, and self-love. Even though there are so many other things swirling around the edges of this story, this is what the Fire & Thorns series is really all about. Elisa recognizing herself for who she is, being confident in it; becoming who she’s meant to be on her own terms, throwing off the burden of other people’s expectations and following her heart and conscience. Being her own person, even when bound by duty. It’s a truly beautiful journey. Hector. What can I say about Hector? That I love him, might be a good place to start. I’ve loved Hector since the beginning. (Go #TeamMustache!) In The Girl of Fire and Thorns, he’s this kind, understanding, wonderful man who I completely idolized. In The Crown of Embers he’s still all of those things, yet Rae’s humanized him mainly by giving him more page time and by giving the readers a chance to know him better. Hector’s a man of amazingly steadfast character, with exceptional judgment, unwavering loyalty. He’s quick thinking, incredibly self-sacrificing, has a wonderfully wry sense of humor – a leader who inspires fierce loyalty and confidence in those that follow him. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s also rather dashing and handsome (even sans mustache). In short, he’s rather amazing. But he’s also just a man, and this second book lets the reader peek through the cracks in Hector’s armor, so to speak, and it makes me love him all the more. Romance. Let me just sum it up with the following: “*swoony sigh*… What the?!…*determined smile*” Bits ‘n bobs…Characters. Many key characters are back in The Crown of Embers, and several new players are introduced – including one… no two… that I really love and hope to see more of in The Bitter Kingdom. Ximena. I’ve found the portrayal of Elisa’s relationship with her nurse Ximena to be one of the most interesting in the series. Ximena has always been a little over-zealous, a little too devout, a little heavy-handed when it comes to the safety of her young charge. But Elisa is now both a queen as well as the bearer, and this will inevitably change the dynamic of their relationship. Love vs. duty. Always love when this conundrum comes into play – when affairs of state collide with matters of the heart. You know it’s about to get interesting, people… *dun dun dun* Godstones, Gates, and the edge of the world. Oh my! The world! Omigosh, the world! Rae has created a world that dances so closely to eras, customs, religions and traditions from our own, and yet it is so clearly and definitively fantasy. In The Crown of Embers the reader is given an even deeper glimpse into the history and workings of Elisa’s world and source of power. It. Is. Fascinating. And left me wanting more, more, more. Overall. The Crown of Embers far exceeded my expectations of “amazing,” and left me stunned, happy, sad, swooning, fist-pumping victoriously and, of course, absolutely dying for The Bitter Kingdom.