Monday, October 17, 2011

The Girl of Fire and Thorns - Rae Carson

Title: The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Author: Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 423 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: October 15, 2011
Finished: October 16, 2011

From the inside cover:
Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.

Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She 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 the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he’s not the only one who needs 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 a way 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.

This book has been on my radar for a while, mainly because it's gotten so much positive hype. Thankfully for me, the book lives up to the hype more or less, I sat down with it over the weekend and couldn't put it down because I got so engrossed in it.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns is high fantasy, and takes place in the kingdoms of Orovalle and Joya d'Arena, where God chooses one person every hundred years for an act of divine service to the people, marked by a divine gem called a Godstone. Elisa is the 16-year-old younger princess of Orovalle, ignored both because she is a girl and because she is not a clone of her older sister Alodia. However, Elisa possess the Godstone, lodged in her navel by a beam of light when she was only a baby (I couldn't help from thinking of Carebears every time this came up despite the serious and non-fluffy nature of the whole idea). She is constantly told of her wonderful destiny as God's servant, but is kept ignorant of what exactly that entails. She is hastily married off to Alejandro, king of Joya d'Arena, in the midst of both countries planning for a war against the common enemy, the Invierne. Not only does Elisa have to learn to navigate the very different world of her new husband's home of Brisadulce, she must also prove herself a worthy queen despite her self-esteem issues. Elisa is later kidnapped by revolutionaries who inform her of a traitor in her new husband's midst, who has allied with the Invierne for his own benefit at the expense of the forgotten hill peoples. Because Alejandro is a coward as a king (but a good man otherwise), the revolutionaries believe that Elisa, as the bearer of the Godstone, is their only hope to save their people.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns does an amazing job of capturing the reader right away, the world-building is remarkably well done and the plot moves along quite nicely, so there's no boring lags to plow through. Elisa is a wonderfully sympathetic character, she's got some insecurity issues from being motherless (and blamed for said act by her older sister), ignored by her father, kept in the dark about what being a bearer really means, and to top it off, she's overweight too. I loved the fact that Elisa was portrayed as a heavier girl, you don't see that explicitly stated in YA books (except ones that revolve around weight loss) and hardly ever in a heroine. Though she does end up losing some weight as the book progresses (not consciously), she's still not portrayed as a stick, so the author gets some respect from me for that. Elisa starts off pretty meek and spineless (though quite a cunning strategist), but eventually does grow into a very confident and self-assured young woman, so there is noticeable character growth for those people that don't like it when their heroines aren't super strong right off the bat (I personally don't mind a spineless character in reasonable circumstances so long as they noticeably grow as the novel progresses).

There were only a few things about this book that irked me. I would have liked to see Elisa not go through the physical body change before having her worth realized...I know the author probably didn't intend it as such and based on the plot it was kind of a natural progression, but it still alludes to the idea that a person who's heavy isn't of value until they conform to the widely held idea of real beauty. Would it be so bad to have a kick-ass heroine who happens to be a little heavy? I know some real-life heavier set ladies that are as healthy as skinny-mini girls, if not more so, and who can give a lot of people a run for their money physically, I'd just like to see this reflected once in a while in mainstream media. Also, the romance aspect wasn't really given a lot of spotlight. That's not a big problem for me, I can live without a romance, but the time they did devote to it wasn't enough, it wasn't very believable. Granted, this is the first book in a planned trilogy, so there might be some new, believable development on the romance front in forthcoming books. Lastly, the book could be viewed as preachy if one chose to read it as's easy to ignore the obvious connections because magic is mentioned (though not as often as the God references and other faith based stuff), so for someone that likes their fantasy without something so closely resembling mainstream religion it did irk me every so often, but again it's easy to ignore.

One of the best fantasy titles I've read this year. Wonderfully well-written with an excellent and engrossing plot that will have you glued to the pages long into the night, and a strong, sympathetic heroine that you can truly admire. I'll definitely be picking up the rest of the series when it's released, so read this!

Thoughts on the cover:
Compared to the proposed cover, this new one is much more appropriate. Elisa is described as dark skinned and heavy, whereas the ARC cover portrays a skinny girl who is anything but dark-skinned. This new cover focuses more on a forest scene with Elisa's face half hidden in the Godstone in the centre. I think some desert imagery would have been more appropriate than a forest scene, but oh well...

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