September 12, 2012

‘Crown of Embers’ explores more than teen angst

Posted in Between Us column, Books, Spirituality, Women at 8:53 pm by dinaheng

When it comes to Young Adult novels, there’s a fine balance between the entertainment and education factor in an author’s writing. While many tales are engaging, not all are thought-provoking.

Rae Carson’s latest book, “The Crown of Embers” (Greenwillow Books, $17.99) is one that does both.

The first book in her fantasy trilogy, “The Girl of Fire and Thorns,” was a finalist for the Morris Award for YA Debut, introducing the story of a chubby 17-year-old princess who must become a fit and trim warrior in order to survive a desert kidnapping and save a kingdom. For Elisa to discover how smart and courageous she really is, she must battle palace intrigues and painful memories on the way to fulfilling her destiny as bearer of the Godstone.

This second book in the trilogy, “The Crown of Embers,” picks up a few months later, with Elisa now the queen of a kingdom where forces are jockeying for power, with enemies outside and within her court. With the Godstone embedded in her body, she struggles to learn how to use its power, and how to not let power get in the way of romance.

“Growing up, I was a big fan of fantasy fiction,” says Rae Carson, who lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband and two stepsons. “I started to see patterns and elements of the genre that came up over and over. There was The Chosen One, the Amulet of Power, the Hero’s journey, and the Princess in Distress. As I got older, I got bored with them.”

So when Carson sat down to write her own story, she decided to imagine “the most ridiculous Amulet of Power I could come up with, and decided to make it organic,” she says. “The inspiration for the Godstone came from getting my navel pierced.”

Instead of making Elisa, The Chosen One, aware of her special attributes, Carson chose to start by writing about a teenager who was powerless.

“I wanted to see her come into her own power, and take control of her destiny,” Carson says. “In 2006, I started getting serious about writing the first book, and was going through a religious conversion. I used to be a staunch evangelical Christian, and recognized that a lot of things I used to believe were not true for me anymore.

“I see so much hate toward women, people of color, and homosexuals in many evangelical Christians, and I can’t hold to that anymore. It’s natural for people to question their beliefs, and there should be no shame for young people to question theirs. Elisa never loses her faith in the book, and I wanted to explore faith from a real world perspective. I’m a spiritual person, always looking for the divine.”

Images of the desert, and the influence of Arabian and Spanish cultures, make for absorbing reading about a kingdom that Carson envisions as a place that might look like the northern tip of Africa in another time.

The exploration of faith in these books took courage to write, and is beautifully executed. The work is not just another teenage dystopian novel that revolves around darkness in the world. Carson’s series reads with a mixture of reality and fantasy that brings light to the darkness, and belief in the power of Love.

Pick up these books, and you won’t want to put them down until you’ve finished the last page. Thankfully, there’s still one more book in the trilogy to look forward to.

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2 Comments »

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