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
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.
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
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 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.