This post contains spoilers for the prior books in the series.
The Bitter Kingdom is the final book in the Girls of Fire and Thorns trilogy. (See my other reviews here and here.) Elisa must find the kidnapped Hector by heading into enemy territory. Along with Mara, Belén, and Storm, she navigates through the free villages, working to discover the full extent of her power while simultaneously hiding her identity. Her path leads her to many discoveries about herself, and the people she rules. Traveling in disguise provides many advantages to a ruler; it is much easier to learn the truth about a people when they are comfortable, and in their natural state. Elisa slowly realizes that it is not her Godstone that gives her the power to lead, but her nature and ability to make the hard choices for her people and the greater region.
The Bitter Kingdom raises many questions about God and faith. All her life, Elisa has believed that her power comes from her Godstone, and therefore God. Though it provides her with physical comfort when she prays and alerts her to danger, she never receives direct confirmation that her prayer and faith accomplish anything. Though she remains devout, she begins to understand that the magic that pours through her stone is not her only power. Though her prayer is comforting, Elisa learns that it is not her prayers that help her out of difficult situations, but her own quick wit and confidence in the people she surrounds herself with. That said, it is difficult to believe she would be as decisive or persuasive if she did not have her faith and the power of her Godstone on her side. As she accomplishes more and more, it raises many questions for her about Godstone and where her power comes from. The mysterious Godstones have no clear origin, though their magic seems to flow from an earthly source. In the end, it is not the narrative that matters to Elisa. She knows that without her faith, she would never have pushed herself to unite her people. She continues to believe, but also knows that it doesn’t matter whether or not there is a god; she does not need confirmation in what she believes to have faith. There is no leader more confident than one who believes her power is self-derived and not provided by divine luck. This gives her the agency to accomplish more than just her destined task, and be a leader instead of just a vessel.
The unknown origin of power causes much of the conflict in The Bitter Kingdom. The prejudices embedded by wrongs done generations before seem impossible to overcome. With a wide desert and mountain range between them, the people of Invierne and Joya D’Arena have no opportunity to see the true nature of each other, and so rely on the erroneous descriptions they are told. With their minds poisoned, it is easy to hate each other and continue to fight a battle that started centuries earlier. The power of the Godstones is scarce, and the fight to control it seems unending. The thirst for this power is enough to destroy any fragile hope of the disparate peoples coming together. It is only when Elisa is able to use the weight of that power to coerce the groups into considering compromise for the first time that any progress can be made. The true nature of the Godstones and their power is never revealed. Though it can be used to cause great harm, it also has great capacity to heal and do good. Over the years, those who have attempted to gain control of this power have severed its connection to the world. Instead of flowing readily, it is now sequestered deep within magical, carefully guarded aquifers of power. Elisa learns that this power can be shared and used without harm, but sees that the desire to horde and sequestered it has made its flow impossible for most. How different would this world be if the power was accessible to all, not just those with Godstones? Does removing the limits make something less coveted, or would some always seek ways to keep the power for themselves and to take it from others? With the damage done long before Elisa’s time, there is little she can do to change the nature of power, but she can change the nature of the way people access it. This is much more powerful than any burst of fire she can create with her Godstone. Bringing unity and peace, through discourse and agreement provide peace that will last. Needing a weapon to enforce conditions does not lead to peace; it leads to revolution. The only way that all parties can be happy is if they have a seat at the bargaining table and are able to believe that their best interests have been kept in mind. In spite of the majesty of the multitude of Godstone abilities, those with the power to use them are very few. Elisa has used the kind of power that ordinary citizens can understand, and this is what will make the peace last. When an idea is attainable and relatable it is much easier accepted that an abstract idea driven by fear. This is how peace will come to Joya D-Arena. Not through force or Godstone, but through careful planning and unified haring and balancing of resources.
If you never hesitate when destiny might be calling, read The Bitter Kingdom.
Carson, Rae. The Bitter Kingdom (Girl of Fire and Thorns). HarperCollins, 2013. Kindle Edition.