Title: The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Author: Rae Carson
Series: Fire and Thorns #1
Genre: Fantasy YA
Release date: September 20, 2011
Summary: 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 know, I know. Rae Carson’s THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS is over a year old. The sequel, THE CROWN OF EMBERS, is already out. Sometimes I’m a slacker when it comes to reading books that are totally up my alley, friends, and I don’t know why. Because honestly, THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS is one of those books that I knew I would really enjoy but, for one reason or another, I always managed to push it aside for something else. Not anymore, THANKFULLY. Because Rae Carson‘s fantasy about a young girl with a very rare gift and the war that is on the verge of tearing her world apart is pretty special and engrossing.
Elisa is a great narrator and main character. There is a lot of growing on her part as the story of THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS progresses that makes Elisa really stand out. As if she needed to stand out any more: she’s already her world’s equivalent of a white elephant. The godstone she bears in her bellybutton marks her for exceptional greatness…or exceptional sacrifice, two things that are not mutually exclusive. Especially because she is now the secret queen to a king who is a good guy but basically a wuss, and his hesitation and indecision is creating some VERY dangerous drama, and Elisa finds herself smack in the middle of it, but she proves herself up to the task. Elisa gradually transforms from a self-conscious young girl who doesn’t believe in herself, to a confident, daring leader. She is ALWAYS smart and devout, but she really takes her fate in her own hands. (As much as she can what with that prophecy and all.)
I have to also take a minute to say that THINGS happen in THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS that almost never happen in YA books. I’ll tell you this: as an avid reader of ADULT fantasy, I wasn’t unfamiliar with the twists. They still hurt like burning, but in a devastatingly good way, and I give Rae Carson incredible props for going there. TWICE.
But really, there are two things about THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS that stand out to me as I recall my reading of it. One, the world building, and it’s Spanish-influenced, faith-based culture. Two, Elisa herself, and the matter of her weight. I’ll shout out the world building first. Friends, anything Spanish-based or set in Spain is nearly always an insta-read thing for me. And the way Rae Carson took what seemed to me to be 15th or 16th century Spain and created a vibrant, complex world out of it. WITH MAGIC. But also with war, politics, danger, and most importantly, faith. Friends, there’s lots of religious themes here, and I can’t even call them undertones. Because that’s not enough. They are front and center, starting with Elisa’s godstone and continuing to the daily prayers and the pivotal role of religious texts. Normally overly religious things bug me, but Rae Carson really does a super job with making it all seem like just a part of the culture and the life of our characters.
That brings me to the issue of Elisa’s weight. I don’t mean to make it sound like such a huge deal leaving it all to the end and whatnot, but it’s such a rare thing to not only HAVE a main character who isn’t just one of those girls who thinks she’s fat because the popular girls are a 0 and she’s an 8. Elisa is overweight. She is an emotional eater, and she has lots of feels about things. It isn’t until later in THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS that Elisa becomes healthier, and it isn’t because she’s trying to impress a guy or anything superficial. It’s because she’s living a more active life with more people who need to share less food. She hardly notices her weight loss at first because she’s got lots of other things on her mind. It’s like the more weight she loses, the less of a THING it becomes. I appreciated that lots, even if the end result was the same as it always is: the girl is skinny.
Friends, THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS has lots to recommend it. Super world-building, political drama, romance (Woot!), loss, sacrifice, and a main character who is really made of stronger stuff than she believes. The end of Rae Carson‘s debut is shocking and sad and basically takes things and shakes them all up. It’s crazy good. I can’t wait to see what awaits Elisa in the books to come because she’s certainly got lots to deal with, friends.