Cover The Empire of Dreams: A golden helmet and two swords crossed on a red background

About the Book

Title: The Empire of Dreams (Girl of Fire & Thorns #4)
Published: 2020
Series: Girl of Fire and Thorns
Swoonworthy Scale: 1

Cover Story: Montell Jordan
BFF Charm: Heck Yes!
Swoonworthy Scale: 1
Talky Talk: Continuation
Bonus Factors: Feminism, Old Friends
Relationship Status: Family Reunion

Careful, Sweetie: spoilers! This is the fourth book in the Girl of Fire and Thorns series, so if you haven’t read the previous trilogy, you should probably hop back in the TARDIS and go curl up in the library by the pool with the first book before continuing.

Content Warning: There are some depictions of abuse towards a child, and a scene in which older Red is attacked unprovoked. She also experiences occasional moments of PTSD.

Cover Story: Montell Jordan

GIF from Montell Jordan's music video "This Is How We Do It"

This is a major glow-up compared to the original trilogy’s seriously juvenile covers. You wouldn’t be embarrassed to be holding this on the train in front of your cat.

The Deal:

Once upon a time, Red Sparkle Stone was known as Mula, a half-breed slave girl. Her life changed forever when Empress Elisa freed her and trusted her enough to join her inner circle. Now, eight years later, Red is one of the royal family—almost. Hector and Elisa consider her adoption ceremony a mere formality, but everyone is shocked when they somehow don’t get enough votes to approve it. Now Captain Bolivar, one of Red’s supporters, is missing and there are vile rumors circulating about her. What’s more, Elisa is pregnant again, but because of past difficulties she’s taking the family—minus Prince Rosario—to Orovalle for the remainder of the pregnancy to be near the best midwives.

Red volunteers to stay home and prove her loyalty by joining this year’s training group for the Royal Guards, the most elite and trusted bodyguards of the Empress. Her plan starts off solely to show those two-faced court lackeys that she’s made of stronger stuff than they think, but her involvement in the Royal Guard becomes doubly important when she and Rosario learn that someone is angling for his crown AND his life while Elisa is away. Can Red, a lowly trainee and royal-reject, figure out who is planning an assassination and a coup before she loses everything she cares about?

BFF Charm: Heck Yes! 

BFF Charm Heck Yes - sparklier and shinier than the original BFF Charm

When we first met little Red in The Bitter Kingdom she was smart and tenacious, but you could also see underneath she was a little girl who had been starved: for attention, for love, for actual food. She was a true survivor. It’s been almost a decade, and the blue slave tattoos on her heels are fading, but the past still echoes through her everyday life, like when she startles at loud noises, prefers to sleep on the floor in a corner where she can protect her back, and knows an insane amount of self-defense thanks to her (almost) adopted father, Hector.

In between the current action, we visit Red’s past and learn what she survived before Elisa found her, and it can be tough to read about all the ugliness she had to endure. I want to make everything better for Red, and I would gladly take out all the jerks who blocked her adoption ceremony singlehandedly. Present day Red has blossomed under the love and affection and tutelage of her new family, and I’d be honored to be her first female friend. She’s loyal, brave, and honest to a fault (she can thank her Invierno side for that). 

Swoonworthy Scale: 1

There are the barest hint of vibes between Red and one of the other recruits, but her sole concern is surviving training and making sure her brother doesn’t get assassinated. Girl’s gotta have her priorities.

Talky Talk: Continuation

This is truly a companion to the original trilogy, in that you could read it by itself, but why the hell would you? You’re not gonna know the rich backstory of why Elisa is revered as the Living Godstone, or how hard she’s working to bring peace between two factions of people who have warred against each other for centuries. And why would you care if Rosario gets assassinated if you don’t remember him as a cute and oft-ignored little princeling? Or why it would be hard for Red to trust the sons of the traitor Conde Eduardo? Carson does plenty to introduce her established history to the casual reader, but my true happiness was derived from diving back into a rich world I already knew and catching up with the people I already loved.

Stripping away the nostalgia leaves us with a book about a girl going into a situation where she’s not wanted or expected to thrive and trying to buck conventions. It’s a narrative we’ve seen plenty of times, and while the book is good, it doesn’t exactly bring anything unusual or new to the conversation. But I was okay with that, because this isn’t really supposed to be a standalone novel; it’s a love letter to all the people who begged Carson to tell Red’s story. Carson’s writing is still strong and her characters layered, and you know I stayed up past my bedtime to finish it. The tears of happiness I may have shed at the end were because the author has managed to make Red and Elisa’s lives wonderful places to visit, and I was happy with how this companion book fit into the Girl of Fire and Thorns series. 

Bonus Factor: Feminism 

Raised fists in different skin tones wearing nail polish

Early on, Red is informed that only one other girl has tried out for the Royal Guard, and she did so by pretending to be her brother and taking his place. (You can’t tell me that was not a subtle nod to Alanna!) So this tells us what kind of testosterone-laden world Red is about to enter. It’s familiar and frustrating, but I liked how Carson would slip in some feminism here and there, reminding readers (younger ones especially) that this kind of misogynistic ideology should not be put up with, like when Red bests a favored rich son on the first day:

“You’ve made him feel bad. And look bad. He’ll take it out on you.”
“Why is it my job to make him feel good about himself?”

I also really loved this moment when Red is reminded of an early memory when she taught herself to be super conscious of where her body was at all times, how to fold in on herself to take up less space because if she jostled the cook she would be beaten. She ponders on how the boys from her training class act:

“What must it be like to bludgeon your way through life without a care for anyone else? Some of them can’t do the forms well, not because they’re clumsy but because they’ve never had to control themselves or consider their blundering bodies in relation to someone else’s space. The world has always made space for them. Maybe this a thing that only happens to boys.”

How many women have we seen unconsciously try to take up less space in the world compared to most men who never question their place in it?

Bonus Factor: Old Friends 

B&W picture of two older women smiling at the camera

It’s weird to think of Elisa all grown up and confident in her ruling role, but it’s also great to see that she and Hector are excellent parents. And Mara and Belen are still around being awesome. Thank goodness Rosario didn’t grow up to be a bratty prince! I love that he and Red are super close siblings, and that little four-year-old Xiomena loves Red like a sister. Carson gave us plenty of fan service, and it made this fan very happy.

Relationship Status: Family Reunion

It was so great to see you again, Book. I knew this reunion would be a success! Thanks for catching me up on everything I’ve missed out on in your life. Let’s do this again soon!

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Greenwillow Books. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. The Empire of Dreams is available now.

Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.