I have two main issues with The Girl of Fire and Thorns: Elisa and religion. I'll discuss Elisa first. Initially, I was very excited to read a fantasy novel centering around an overweight heroine. Such a thing simply isn't seen. You do get some muscular heroines (like Kel from Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small Quartet) who stand out from the svelte, trim crowd, but an unfit heroine...not so much. Then I met Elisa. She irritates the heck out of me. When the reader first meets her, she has sister issues like crazy, no self-esteem, hates herself for being fat, and eats everything in sight. Because of her inferiority complex, she moans and whimpers, blaming everyone else for her own shortcomings.
What I hoped for was a plus size heroine who would be okay with her size, but, instead, Elisa hates herself for it, yet refuses to do anything about it, taking a sort of perverse comfort in not trying, because she doesn't think she could live up to Alodia anyway. She does, through the course of the story, lose some of the weight, though she never becomes slender. With the loss of weight, her sense of self improves, and she looks at her previous clothing and deems it a tent, judging her former self. If she doesn't have sympathy for herself, why should I? She does sort of comes to term with her size, whatever it may be, to some degree later, I felt, but only because she found a boy she knew would love her no matter what she weighed. Again, I would really like this to come from inside. Maybe I'm being too picky because something about her narration just grates on me, but this is how I felt.
Pretty much the only thing I like about her in those first couple of chapters is how she wishes for an old, ugly husband or one with pock marks, even if it is so he won't be disappointed in her. Of course, what she actually gets is the most beautiful man she's ever seen, King Alejandro. For all that she hates how attractive she is, she kind of swoons all over him for a while, falling prey to his charms without really knowing anything about him.
I will give Elisa this, though. When the chips are down, she usually steps up. In quiet moments and social situations, she feels awkward and comforts herself with food and hatred of herself and others. In the midst of adventure, her mettle shows through. I like that Elisa so much better, and, thankfully, she comes to the forefront as the novel progresses. Even at the end, though, there's something about her that just grates, though I can't put my finger on precisely what. Oh, and I know this isn't a smooth transition but this thought doesn't merit a full paragraph, I could have done without a full chapter that kept mentioning how she'd pissed herself. Mentioning it once is good enough; I can remember it happened without constant descriptions of the acrid smell, okay?
Anyway, moving on to religion, Elisa happens to be the bearer of the Godstone, the Chosen One. This sounds really exciting and comes with some nice bling (a big jewel in her belly that appeared when she was a baby), but mostly just means she has to pray a lot and likely eventually give her life in service. For those that don't know, I am not religious, but I did minor in theology, so I do have some tolerance for religious discussions. I do not, however, generally like it to be a main theme in my novels. Sure, this religion has been made up, but aren't they all? The constant praying and such just wears on me. Again, this is my own issue, and other readers obviously weren't bothered, but, for those who are sensitive to such things, be forewarned.
As far as the other characters go, I really wasn't interested in most of them. The only female character I like is the prickly Cosmé. I appreciate her candor and her refusal to pretend to like people when she doesn't. Alejandro, Elisa's hottie husband, is incredibly weak and pathetic. He just bores me to tears. Hector, his man-at-arms, hasn't been given a ton of personality yet, but fits into the same archetype as the heroes from Grave Mercy and Touch of Power, so I like him thus far. Humberto, Cosmé brother is a sweetheart and reminds me a lot of a puppy. Rosario, Alejandro's son, actually was one of my favorite characters. He already has way more sense than his father.
The best thing about the novel, what really saved it from being all the way down in the 'didn't like it' end of my rating scale is that Carson does do some surprising things. While much of the book did feel unoriginal, she throws in some genuine twists. She's not afraid to hurt her characters, and I love that in an author. I hope she continues to take the plot in somewhat surprising directions.
I will be listening to Crown of Embers shortly, and I hope I like Elisa a bit better in that installment. I've seen The Girl of Fire and Thorns compared to Kristin Cashore's novels or Maria V. Snyder's and so far, I don't see it, but I'm going to give the series another shot.
Jennifer Ikeda's narration fits the story very well. She has a gift for accents, which helps keep the characters clear and separate in my mind. The voices she gave suited the characters well, and at no time did her narration make me roll my eyes. Her tone suited Elisa quite well, I felt. Her voice was an easy one to pay attention to.