Saturday, February 4, 2012

Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Author: Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow
Release Date: September 20, 2011
Audience: Young Adult
Source: Purchased in Bookstore
Reviewed by: Renée
Fiction * Fantasy * Adventure * Romance

Description from GoodReads:
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 seeks 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.

I loved this book so much. This has been sitting on my shelf for months, waiting for me to find some time to sit down and read it, and when I saw that it was recently awarded a finalist for the Morris Prize, I decided it was time to give it a try. The Girl of Fire and Thorns is unlike anything I have read in the young adult genre. While it will definitely appeal to fans of Graceling, Blood Red Road, and Tamora Pierce, this novel is something completely new and original (and Rae Carson's writing is incredibly beautiful).

The fantasy world in The Girl of Fire and Thorns is very special. The concept of someone being born every century carrying a Godstone -- a jewel on his/her stomach -- that marks her for greatness by God was a unique twist on the "chosen one" trope that comes up frequently in many pst-Harry Potter series. I loved the way that religion played such a strong role in shaping the characters' destinies, and how it placed this heavy burden on the protagonist, Elisa, to rise to the task. I know that many people, myself included, are wary of novels that even vaguely reference religion, but the spirituality in this book is not of the preachy converting sort. It's more a of a plot device that puts heavier responsibility on Elisa to fulfill her prophecy and acts as a means to emphasizing each character's unique traits, such as loyalty, obedience, and fear. The spirituality in this book definitely will not alienate or offend anyone, and is purely fictional.

Another unique thing about this story was the culture of the characters. Although, it is never stated, many of the characters have names like Alejandro and Humberto, and Spanish-sounding city names, which suggests that they might all be Spanish or Castilian. I really liked this, because the majority of mainstream YA focuses on White Americans or English protagonists, so it was nice to read about a different landscape, foods, architecture, and people for a change. Despite the fantastical/magical elements that characterize a lot of the action and plot development of the story, these cultural touches made it feel very real and excited the traveler in me.

While the writing was truly superb and mature, and the setting was special, the best part of the novel for me was the character development. Elisa is such a great protagonist. She is the overweight, moody, 'dark-skinned' second daughter to the king, and she undergoes such an amazing emotional transformation throughout the book. I liked reading about someone who was genuinely unpopular and insecure in an obvious way (with her being rather plump) and seeing her grow from that and become more than just what people see on the outside. I loved how Rae Carson handled the issue of being overweight and how she made Elisa's maturity and emotional journey something that is not solely tied to whether she loses weight or not. I also loved some of the secondary characters. There were definitely some guys that I loved in the novel -- some who I hope will become more than Elisa's friends and some who I hope just remain as close friends (but I won't spoil it by naming names). Also, I loved Ximena and, eventually, Cosme. I always find it refreshing when young adult books can include some strong female friendships or alliances, instead of always pitting girls against each other as competitors or scheming frauds. Even the villains in the novel were complex, and of a breed that I was not expecting at all. I finished this book and honestly felt like I was being parted from my friends.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns is fantastic, and went immediately to my "favorites" shelf after reading. It is intense, and Rae Carson doesn't hesitate to hurt or kill off characters, so beware. You will become very emotionally attached. The action is non-stop, the heroine is strong, and the romance is so sweet, and it will leaving you dying for Crown of Embers (Book 2).

I write books about teens who must do brave things. I'm originally from California, but I moved to Ohio to marry my husband, who is the smartest and therefore sexiest man I know. We live in Columbus with my teenaged stepsons, who are awesome. My books tend to contain lots of adventure, a little magic and romance, and smart girls who make (mostly) smart choices. I especially love to write about questions I don't know the answers to. Follow her on Twitter: @raecarson

Her website is: