First 50 Pages: Initially, The Girl of Fire and Thorns was boring. I found the book interesting. The plot line grabbed me. The characters were well described and very relatable. But it was boring. I couldn’t place my finger on why. I heard everyone loved this book so I decided stick with it.
Characters: Elisa is the main character. Through this story you watch this little girl grow into something amazing. The plot line extends through months. In the beginning of the story, Elisa starts as this chubby little teenage girl content with being sheltered and knowing nothing outside of her little bubble. She has a hard time socializing. She’s daddy’s girl in a very sheltered way. And everything terrifies her.
By the end of the book she grows to become a powerful and respectful queen. She is decisive, still afraid, but not afraid to act. She is understanding of her peoples’ needs. The reader can sense how much she has grown.
There are a slew of other supporting characters along the way such as Cosme’, Lord Hector, and Ximena. Despite their roll and constant attention, everyone else in the book does play more of a supportive roll. The Girl of Fire and Thorns is a very first person focused book focusing on Elisa and her journeys and transformations.
My Review: I stated before that this book was initially boring. I couldn’t place my finger on it though. The more I kept reading the more I wanted to see what happened next. I have that kind of curious personality. Once I become invested in something I have to finish it out. A movie or book has to be dreadful for me to not finish it. But this was different somehow. I was hooked but still found the book boring and it was a very odd feeling.
As Elisa’s journey progressed and the plotline moved on I grew even more addicted, but I still found the book boring. I still couldn’t place my finger on it. I began to realize how detailed everything was. Maybe it was the descriptions? But I decided I liked how visual everything was.
Elisa’s journey took a twist with her second trip into the desert (don’t want to give away too much). She began to mature. Her demeanor became stronger. The story grew more interesting and fuller. But there was still this certain something I didn’t like.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns started to wrap up. The climax was almost at its peak. This book grew on me. I couldn’t put it down. I usually read in the parking lot while my wife attends her classes. That is really the only time I get to read. I got down to the last chapter in this book and was tempted to make my wife wait a few more minutes until I finished the book. She won out of course. It is amazing how the wife always manages to do that. But I couldn’t wait to read those last few pages.
And then I realized what was bugging me through the entire story. The writing style is very dry. Every description, although very descript, was bland. The writing was blunt. The entire story is I this and We that. The language just isn’t very colorful. Usually I pinpoint this right away. This writing style turns me off quickly. But something about The Girl of Fire and Thorns just mesmerized me. I knew there was something off right from the start but I couldn’t stop reading it. The story sucked me in like a bad habit.
I have to give kudos to the author though. The entire plot line is very full. I’ve read a lot of books lately where the story was good but thin. Characters are always introduced well and the protagonist and antagonist go at it a bit with some supporting characters pinched in for good taste. The story was always entertaining, but felt thin. The Girl of Fire and Thorns is a single book. It managed to fit a story that spanned months feel very full. It was like a good Thanksgiving dinner; it wasn’t overwhelming and very easy to digest but I came away stuffed. No loose ends were left dangling for the reader.
Final Thoughts: Yeah… Why not? I’ll give this book my recommendation. I kid, I kid… (If you imagine that in a Russian accent it becomes more fun.)
In a more serious form of expression, I do recommend this book. I felt the writing style was bland and dry. To play devil’s advocate against myself, that does make the book much easier for all age groups to read and not limit it to adults. Despite the bland writing style, the imagery used is well done and the book is engaging and entertaining.
I always ask myself, “Would this make a cool movie?” Imagine my reaction when I found out that The Hunger Games and Mortal Instruments were being made into movies. I will be the first one on Fandango for my tickets. Should The Girl of Fire and Thorns become a movie, I again shall be the first person reserving my tickets. I believe the full story, descriptive imagery, addicting story line, and character growth would make one heck of a movie that ranks up there with that of Lord of the Rings.
This book kept me wondering what was going to happen from the very beginning! It's about time i read a book that wasn't the usual fairy tale stuff every one has begun to expect in this genre. I loved the strong female lead and how she grows throughout the story. This book Made me happy, sad, and incredibly shocked until I turned the last page!
Excellent character development drives a unique and engaging story
This book was totally unlike any other fantasy I’ve ever read, both in characters and in plot. I’ll talk about characters first.
First, Elisa was not beautiful (and not in that “she doesn’t think she’s beautiful but guys keep falling all over themselves when she appears” kind of way). Second, she was not highly skilled. She bore the Godstone, but she had absolutely no idea why or what to do with it. And third, she had a steep learning curve. She didn’t find herself to have a mysteriously strong aptitude for any sort of noticeable skill. Basically, what she had was a connection to God that she didn’t understand, decent intelligence, and a desire to do the right thing so she could fulfill her service. That was pretty much it. It was refreshing to see a fantasy protagonist with no major advantages over the other characters (save the Godstone, but again, she spent most of the book being utterly flummoxed by it).
Then there was the plot. It had a decidedly religious and philosophical slant, which I wasn’t really expecting going into this book. It didn’t preach any specific religion (that I am aware of anyway), but the overall themes of God and prayer and faith in an overarching purpose that is bigger than any of us can understand were huge. I found this totally different than other fantasy I’ve read, and although this wasn’t by any means a preachy or religious book, I liked the way it tackled the complex issues of religion and faith and trying to understand the will of God. It did it within the world of fantasy and magic, so I don’t think it would turn off non-religious readers, but for me, I enjoyed a fantasy book that both fulfilled my need for magic and adventure, in addition to making me really think and question.
Of course, this book is not all religion and philosophy, not by a long shot. Elisa goes through a HUGE transformation, both physically and mentally, throughout the course of the book. The adventure is sweeping, the world-building highly unique and interesting, and the danger is palpable. Rae Carson was not afraid to put her characters in tough and terrible situations, and that gave the book a gravity that kept me fully engaged.
There were a couple downsides to the book. A couple of the characters I was never able to fully warm to, and it seemed like I was supposed to. I thought Elisa’s development was one of the most realistic hero journeys I’ve ever read, but it almost came at the expense of the other characters’ development. There’s one exception to that, and it was actually a pretty secondary character, but I loved him in the brief time I got to know him. However, he disappeared for the entire middle of the book, and doesn’t reappear until the final act. So that was somewhat disappointing. I hope we see a lot more of him in the sequel, Crown of Embers (which releases September 18, 2012).
I did find the climax a tiny bit hard to swallow. I don’t want to spoil anything, so let’s just say that I was expecting it to be…more difficult. After the way everything is set up, it feels like it should have been more difficult. But one big thing happens, and then everything else is just…over. Seems like it should have been messier than that.
But, as I said, that was just a tiny complaint.
Overall, Girl of Fire and Thorns (which, if made into an acronym, is “GOFAT,” which seems like kind of a subliminal encouragement Elisa, who is rather portly at the start of the book) was a refreshing and highly engaging fantasy, with a unique and interesting world, a complex plot, and a fantastic main character.
At first, not so much, but later on it's pure epic.
(Updated: September 10, 2012)
To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from The Girl of Fire and Thorns the first time I read it, thinking that it'd be another overrated fantasy. At first, it was a bit slow and I was like, "Alright, this'll just be a casual read, nothing special."
I was so, so wrong.
Elisa, at first, is an unattractive second-born of the royal family. She's not cut out to be a ruler, unlike her perfectly intelligent elder sister who she can never live up to. She's supposed to be the chosen one, but if she can't even be better than her sister, how can she complete a her destined task? Right at the beginning of the story, she's married off to the king of a neighbouring kingdom, who is kind but wouldn't even acknowledge their wedding in his castle. Not that her family could complain; they're days away. To add insult to injury, he has a mistress that everyone seems to know about. The people of the court, not aware of the fact that the foreign Princess of Orovalle is the queen, gossip about pretty much anything to do with her: her looks, purpose at court, why she resides in the late queen's chambers etc. So other than her strain under sibling rivalry, she has to deal with a husband who pretends they're not together, and hundreds of eyes watching her every move. So basically, life sucks for Elisa.
The only bright thing at the palace is the presence of the spoiled prince who seems to like her, and a guard/bodyguard/something, Lord Hector, who respects her. And that's just the beginning.
So approximately a third of the way into the book, things start getting interesting, so if you think, "Hell, this is boring. I'll stop reading," please try to continue reading. I won't guarantee that you'll like it, but I was not disappointed. So, just so you know, pretty much everything from here on is spoilery, because like I said, this is where things start picking up. So this is where things get really awesome. Like SUPER MEGA ÜBER EPICALLY AWESOME.
Another cool thing about The Girl of Fire and Thorns? It has some bits of Spanish interjected into it, so if you know Spanish, it's kinda cool to read those little bits. Unfortunately, I'm taking French so I had to use a lot of Google Translate for this.
Anyways, after that you clearly see take this 180-degree change, and take charge like a warrior princess, or rather, queen.
SPOILER ALERT I really have to add this in. Alejandro is not as much of a butthead afterwards, and for those of you that've read the book, you'd see Humberto as a friendzoned kind of guy, but really feel for him. After he dies in Elisa's place Elisa doesn't get time to mourn him, and soon afterwards Alejandro takes a similar fate. Both of Elisa's love interests die, even though she couldn't really do much with Humberto seeing how she was married and had a simple friendship with Alejandro. I'm very glad for Humberto respecting Elisa's marriage status instead of saying, "To hell with it," and doing whatever, and at the same time very happy for Alejandro for being a friend to Elisa, which is a heck of a lot better than nothing. SPOILER ENDS
Overall, The Girl of Fire and Thorns is an amazing read for not just fantasy fans but also lovers of other genres, and I'd place a very high recommendation on it.
I requested this e-galley via recommendation from Dani at Refracted Light, and got rejected TWICE. Well, apparently third time was the charm, and I managed to finish it within two hours after my self-imposed Ramadan bookfast.
Honestly, though it surprised me in a few places, this book actually met up to my expectations. I was a bit impressed with how the author harnessed Spanish culture and old traditions to spin around her own new world, as well as the legends based on the Godstone and its particular powers (though I couldn't help but picture it as an extra-large belly ring).
The idea of a fat princess really appealed to me, but sometimes in the book I felt that it was overdone - ie. the whole "Oh, I shouldn't, but I will!" drama that occurs every time she decides to eat something, which is pretty much at the moments when you're dying to know what's going on in the other room. At least at the end, she is confident about herself and her abilities, which is definitely a plus in my book - but other than that, not much else occurs that really makes her the type of character I want to tie to my heartstrings and keep with me forever.
Definitely a good start to the entrance of slightly overweight heroines, though.
My main problem with the story (the reason why I'm not giving it the complete five stars) was the side romance that I felt was a little...adulterous? I understood that Elissa's husband didn't appreciate her, he had someone else on the side, etc. etc. so of course that excused her to break her marriage vows and go and fall in love with someone else.
And then, once I got warmed up to the new guy...well, I'm not going to spoil it for you.
The height of my enjoyment with this book was the plot, and the world-building. To be honest, I actually read it more like a writing class (confession: Holly Root is one of my dream agents, and every time I hear someone signed with her, I have to read through and hope some of that luck rubs off on me). Keeping the action going is definitely one of Ms. Carson's strengths.
To cut my rambling off, let's just sum it up as not being Ella Enchanted, but still with its own place in the book world. It might not be on my "Most Amazing Fantasy Ever!" shelf, but it is still a respectable title from the 2011 line-up, and I will certainly read the next book when it comes out.
A unique, believable heroine - she has issues with her weight, is unsure what to do in her new situation, and is jealous of her elder sister. The world is unique and the pacing is perfect.
I liked this book way more than I thought I would. The first chapter introduced me to a princess, corsets, an arranged marriage to a foreign (and handsome) king, and a mysterious jewel lodged in the belly of the main character. I was — deep sigh — both tired (of princess/royalty stories) and skeptical (A jewel in her belly? O-kay…). Thankfully, I was blown away by the depth and richness of Elisa’s story.
First off, this book carries many concepts I haven’t read much of in YA (or in general): the main character is overweight, there are deep religious roots in place, and the world is inspired by Hispanic culture and language. I have to applaud Carson for not only tackling all of these concepts in one novel, but doing a damn good job of it!
Elisa’s weight/size is a problem that feels real, and it affects much of her life. I saw one review complaning that Elisa’s weight had too much focus throughout the story, but I disagree. The way that her size hindered her abilities, influenced the reactions and opinions of others, and sometimes bolstered her effect toward someone was so real. But even more telling was the way that it affected Elisa internally. Her disordered eating, her self destructive behavior, and her emotional state because of her weight was something that I could relate to. Due to this, Elisa felt so believable to me.
The religious aspect was also quite interesting to me. In this novel, God feels real because the Godstone inside Elisa’s belly actually responds to her prayers. Elisa knows God is real because of her deep, intimate connection. In many stories, religion is used as a method of corruption for the people, and there is some of that in this tale, too. It was so delicately handled by Carson, though, that I was impressed. Each person or group believes they are doing “God’s will,” even though their plan differs from others, and Elisa is deeply aware of this. She has her own struggles with faith, doubts, religious studies, and her duty as a Godstone-bearer.
What I liked best about this book is that there are so many layers and each one feels rich, like one of those gourmet mousse cakes I used to make in pastry school. Elisa goes through so many transformations and they all feel relevant, important, and so darn real. She’s also probably one of the most conscientious main characters I’ve gotten to know in a YA novel, and I very much appreciated her thoughtfulness.
I recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for something different, and something with depth and character, or to anyone who just wants to read a good story.
GREAT main character arc, interesting take on religion
Coming into The Girl of Fire and Thorns, I was hopeful but not entirely optimistic. My sister (whose bottomless YA fantasy library I borrowed this from), informed me that she didn’t care for these books. I started to get scared, so I did some snooping. Most reviews on my GR friends list were pretty positive, but the few negatives ones were really negative. Not being a fantasy fan in general, I got even more scared. So when I started this book and, about 50 pages in, realized that I did like it (liked it a lot, in fact), I was surprised and elated. But then, around the halfway mark, I started to get a bit unsettled by Rae Carson’s treatment of religion, so I had to hold back the gushing praise that doubtless would have sprung forth otherwise. Even so, I did like this book quite a bit—and coming from a non-fantasy reader, that probably says something.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns is about Elisa, who was chosen at birth by God for some undisclosed divine purpose. In the beginning of the book, she’s hastily married off the king of a neighboring kingdom, but their marriage is kept a secret. Elisa’s husband, Alejandro, is kind but distant, obviously very much in love with his current mistress. Just as Elisa is starting to come to terms with her new life, she’s kidnapped by her maid (who’s actually a spy), and whisked away across the desert to the eastern regions of her husband’s kingdom. There she learns that war isn’t only imminent—it’s already happening. Elisa forges a bond with the scrappy rebel group who kidnapped her, falls sort-of in love with a boy named Humberto, and battles the forces of evil at God’s behest.
There were, generally, a few things of note about Elisa as a protagonist. The first was that she was fat (as her stepson so bluntly put it). So she wasn’t considered to be beautiful (because obviously curvy women are always ugly), but otherwise, I think Elisa came about as close to being a Mary Sue as possible. Chosen by God, skilled in diplomacy and military strategy, good with children, etc., etc. Off the top of my head I can’t actually think of any flaws that Elisa had besides being overweight, which isn’t a flaw at all—and in any case, her weight issue was soon resolved, since her trek across the desert “melted away” her excess body fat. Or something. But I’m really digressing right now, because I think Elisa actually works as a main character, “perfectness” aside. Because on top of her Mary Sue-like qualities, she was also intelligent, brave, and self-sacrificing. All things that tend to work well in a high fantasy situation.
Rae Carson’s world-building in this novel is fairly decent, obviously influenced by Spanish language, if not Spanish culture. I wasn’t wowed, though. What I did enjoy, however, was that Carson never once verged into info-dumping territory. She plunked the reader down in a pre-existing world, gave them some textual clues to make sense of what was happening, and ran with it. Some other readers might have preferred more detail, but I was really happy with how the setting was handled in The Girl of Fire and Thorns. I don’t like hand-holding or anything that even remotely seems like hand-holding, so I appreciated that.
Where this book made me uncomfortable, however, was with Carson’s treatment of religion. Essentially, the faith of Elisa and her countrymen is Christianity. A weird, bastardized version of Christianity, but definitely Christianity. Normally, I’d be fine with this, except Rae Carson did some weird things to “scripture” and basically made up her own supplemental mythology. Okay. So if she wanted to do her own thing, religion-wise, why did she even bother stealing the Christian elements in the first place? This smacks of lazy world-building and half-baked research to me. I mean, the author straight-up plagiarized the Magnificat (renaming it “the Glorifica”). I don’t understand what purpose the Judeo-Christian elements serve in this context. All at once, Carson managed to heavy-handedly sermonize on Christian themes while simultaneously undermining their integrity. Color me confused.
But despite my somewhat vocal opinion on the manifold issues with Carson’s religious themes, I was still very impressed with The Girl of Fire and Thorns as a whole. The author’s pace is quick-moving and engaging, Elisa is a worthy protagonist, and the story itself is interesting and unique enough to have captured my attention. I’m still nervous about the presence of God in this series, but I’ll withhold final judgment until the end.
No Spoiler Review - Elisa isn't your ordinary, cookie cutter Princess where everything comes easy "with grace, charm, and beauty." I loved reading about her flaws and insecurities because of the value it gave to her adventure in the book. She's relatable in her awkwardness and in her new found, internal strength. She's certainly a heroine I would look up to!
The Girl of Fire and Thorns has a beautiful setting too. The desert and hill country almost become a character by themselves as Elisa and her companions traverse their dangerous terrain. I liked how the setting descriptions were based on story action as opposed to heavy sentences full of descriptors and no character movement.
There is a lot of lore surrounding the magical Godstone and I don't believe we have even cracked the surface to its magical properties and how it will shape Elisa's future. I'm excited by this! I love a high fantasy book that peels away in layers. I believe Rae Carson has set us up for just that kind of trilogy!
Recommended for High Fantasy readers who love world building, female heroines, learning about different cultures, court intrigues, adventure, magical beings/objects
Elisa is Chosen. For what she doesn't know, just that is it God's plan. She soon discovers that destiny can knock in the most unexpected of ways and will not be denied.
Carson has crafted a world rife with all the social, religious and geopolitical intricacies one would find in a real place. Characters are multifaceted and will surprise the reader more often than not. Reader beware: surprises are not limited to character development and there are several twists in this novel that will have readers tensed and unable to put the book down. Even with all the details in place Carson manages to create a novel of high fantasy that maintains a fast pace. Looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.
Recommended for Readers of:
Cinda Williams Chima, J.R.R. Tolkien, Kristin Cashore, Anne McCaffery
I've been on vacation in New York this past weekend, thus the no posting. I had a great time and I finished this book. Sadly, this book, which I was really excited about, proved rather disappointing. The cover promised fantasy in the vein of Kristin Cashore or Tamora Pierce, but it did not deliver.
For one thing, Elisa is not their kind of heroine. Pierce and Cashore write about extremely strong girls, the kind that, even when completely downtrodden, remain strong and determined. This, Elisa is not, although she does eventually gain in strength and confidence. At the end of the book, she is more like one of their heroines, but, in so many ways, she just does not bring them to mind at all.
I liked that Elisa was not the typical heroine at all, at least if I couldn't have my Cashore-esque heroine. Elisa is overweight, lacks confidence and hopes to be able to marry an ugly man. It's nice to read about someone so atypical sometimes. However, as has been pointed out by others, why would you represent her by the waif on the cover. Sure, the cover drew me in, but it now pisses me off. I mean, who is that? For one thing, she probably ways about 90 pounds soaking wet and, for another, she does not look particularly Spanish, as the character names suggest she should. Fortunately, the cover seems to have been changed for the published version. Good call.
The story kept me fairly interested, but I never felt particularly invested. The godstones always seemed weird and I found their ultimate use pretty dang lame. For those who like fantasy stories, unconventional heroines and don't mind some serious religious content, this is worth a try. If you're expecting something like Kristin Cashore would have written, go reread Graceling or fervently prey for the publication of Bitterblue. However, I know that lots of people have loved this, so go check out some of the high praise by authors before dismissing it completely.