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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Title: The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Author: Rae Carson
Page Count: 432 pages
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Genre: YA, fantasy, first in a series
Copy for review was purchased by me

Synopsis:

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, and 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 her to be 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.  I loved everything about it- the slow build in the beginning, the political and religious elements infused throughout the story, the conflicted and imperfect characters- you name it, I loved it.  I also loved that the author did not shy away from realistic conflicts, both internal and external, and that there were no gimmicks, nothing included that shouldn't have been there or taken out because it might have been sad or upsetting.  The fact that there are more books coming out that are set in this world makes me all warm and tingly inside.

I'm getting ahead of myself though.  There are some things you should know prior to treating yourself to the sweet, sweet deliciousness that is The Girl of Fire and Thorns.  First of all- although there are romantic elements in this story, this is definitely not a romance.  This is a fantasy novel, and that's a good thing- there's all the complex world building and back story that I expect from my favorite fantasy novels without extra baggage in the form of pointless descriptions or needless filler.

Second of all- Elisa has some serious issues that she has to wade through over the course of this story- a person's weight is one huge element; a person's faith is another.  The two are intertwined for Elisa, and if reading about either of those makes you uncomfortable for whatever reason, you've been warned.

I think the way the author dealt with Elisa's self-image issues was a good one because it twined the issues so centrally to the plot and made the resolution logical.  Long story short, Elisa is the younger of two princesses who is married off to the king of the neighboring kingdom in an arranged marriage.   Elisa's perception of herself is brutally self-conscious- she's heavy, shy, bookish, and is fully aware that most people see her as furniture or wallpaper except for her royal heritage and the fact that she bears the Godstone, which marks her as the chosen one.  She figures the Godstone is some kind of cosmic mistake and is totally honest when she says that the best she can hope for is that her new husband isn't a brute.

Upon arriving at her new home Elisa realizes that her perceptions of her situation are pretty accurate, with one twist- apparently she's been kept totally in the dark about the religious lore surrounding the Godstone.  She's angry, of course, and sets out to learn as much about her role and her destiny as possible, which sets in motion a whole slurry of actions that neither she nor anyone else could have predicted.

Out of this stems the resolution to the issues surrounding Elisa's weight.  Elisa does indeed lose a lot of weight in this story, and it changes how people see her.  The thing is, she didn't make a conscious decision to do this; traversing the desert for hours each day with limited access to food will make a person lose weight.  The insight, the strategy, the clever mind and devoted spirit that to me were the primary characteristics of Elisa were there the whole time, but nobody thought they had to listen to her or pay her any mind because she was just the forgettable second princess who took a lot of comfort in food.  Watching Elisa grow into a force to be reckoned with was a treat.  Elisa herself only sees herself in a new and powerful way when she finds a cause she can truly champion; her new lower weight has nothing to do with it.

I had read a lot of mixed reviews about this book prior to reading it myself but I definitely count myself among the book's strong supporters. Rae Carson's website has the bare bones details for the next two books posted (basically titles and fall 2012 and fall 2013 as release dates.) Don't be surprised if you see this book on my best-of list for YA for 2011 at the end of the year. Just saying.

Overall Grade: A+
 
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