Monday, August 5, 2013

Christina Read: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Release Date: September 20, 2011
Published by: Greenwillow / HarperCollins
Recommended by: Mel (The Daily Prophecy)

Christina Reads Your Recommendations is a regular Monday feature here (inspired by A Reader of Fictions' Sadie Hawkins Sunday) in which you, my readers, get to choose what book I will read and review next. Got a book that you love and want everyone to read and review? That you're not sure what to think of and want a second opinion on? That you think I'll love or that I should have already read? Send in your recommendations via this form!


The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

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.


Hmm, I'm still not sure what to do with this review. This book is a good example of one that is technically well done yet failed to elicit a hugely emotional response in me. Execution-wise definitely above "meh," but personal investment definitely "meh."

Ten Likes/Dislikes:

1. (+/-) Elisa, the protagonist - While I thought that Elisa certainly made for an interesting protagonist, her voice falls a bit flat for me. Her POV reminds me of Tris in Divergent or Ismae in Grave Mercy, but with less spirit and less action, so even while I was learning of her better qualities, it was in a sort of detached way that made it hard for me *personally* to identify with her. She starts off as an insecure (fat) teenage bride soon to be married to a king of a warring nation that will need her for her Godstone, for the very thing she's loved and been uncertain of since her naming ceremony. It's revealed that she reads a lot of war and spiritual texts, and is both quite devout and knowledgeable of rituals and a mastermind when it comes to unusual war tactics. I particularly loved that you are shown her development into this strong, smart (she was always smart, but at least you *see* this rather than hear about it from others) leader and fiercesome thing to behold. And even though her moment at the end made me angry, I still got goosebumps.
2. (+) World-building - Rae Carson so did her research. Not only on the Spanish inspired world - the Lengua Classica, the Perditos, the scriptura sancta, the character names and histories, the land holdings, the food that was consistently described - but also on the settings for both of the journeys - the desert, sandstorms, cliffs, seaports, travel by camel, travel by horseback and carriage, etc. The wilderness comes to life with all the descriptions that Carson adds, and the way she contrasts that life and the life of the Malificio with that of the rich, gaudy court is particularly well done. Plus, of course the religious history and rituals and the importance of blood.
3. (+) Plot - Now this is where the book truly excels. The plot is constantly moving, and even though it's constantly filled with *action* per say, it's filled with political scheming, romantic and character tension, twists as character histories and motivations are revealed and betrayals unfold in due time. Even in the beginning, when I felt somewhat bored and not too attached to Elisa, something happened that assured me that I could not stop paying attention until I'd finished the book. The deft plotting captured my attention even if I failed to form an emotional connection.
4. (+/-) Romance - Eh. This review captures most of my thoughts on the romance. There are multiple contenders. Alejandro, boy-who-is-not-named (for y'all spoilerphobes), and other person for later. Alejandro - well, I'm sorry but I never felt for him. But that's not the reason why their romance elicits a "meh." It's that Elisa, from the start, despite wishing that Alejandro has a pockmark, despite feeling nervous on her wedding night, still wants to kiss him when they know nothing of each other. I just don't understand. First you want him to be ugly for your self-esteem issues, then now that he's pretty, you want to kiss despite your nervousness? It's strangely vain for such a humble protagonist. I could dismiss that if not for the way she reacts to boy-who-is-not-named when she first meets him. It's the same sort of incongruity with the situation that throws me off balance. I think I will like the romance in the next books, since I did like the brief promise of a certain person. In general, I think that the romantic interests could have been developed a bit better. Personally I also like there to be a bit more... work and tension involved.
5. (+) Religion - Some books with religion elicit anger immediately in me and while this book did elicit some anger in me regarding religion (see below), I thought the portrayal of religion was generally well done. Now if you haven't already heard, this book has a very heavily Christian-inspired religion. There is a lot of talk of God's will and fulfilling a divine prophecy. Be warned: the God's Chosen One narrative rings with a lot of Messianic themes, so if you can't stomach that, you'd best avoid this one. Where this book, I think, does religion better than the rest is the clear thoughtfulness behind the historical narrative of Godstones and the prophecy. The religion (and religious zealotry) is heavily incorporated into the plot, character motivations, and world-building history, so it's not just *there,* some tool used to create another world and fantasy atmosphere. I also think the book combated some of the Messianic themes by showing how others can be self-sacrificing and serve even when they are not "Chosen."
6. (+) Characters - Each character has clearly been influenced by their social standing and history, and their motivations are not easily deduced but play a significant role in the plot. There is a large side cast of characters to identify with, i.e. Cosmé,  Ximena, Humberto, Hector, Alejandro, Rosario, Aneaxi, etc. This book definitely would pass the Bechdel Test too, and I was quite pleased with the interactions between the female characters.
7. (+) Writing - It's not really poetic and lush as first person present is in Wither is but neither is it simplistic and action-oriented as in Divergent. It's very evocative, though, and Elisa will spare you no detail unobserved about their surroundings, the desert and wilderness, the food they eat, the palace, etc. Those who like descriptions will be pleased.
8. (+) Pacing - Even though I was kind of bored in the beginning and had a rough start with the book, there was still clearly *something* going on, driving the plot forward. The momentum of this book never stops, and as several reviewers have said, the brilliance of this novel is in its plotting and pacing.
9. (+) The Cover - As much a fan as I was of the original girl in dress cover, now that I have read the book, I am so glad they changed it to avoid whitewashing and weightwashing. And I can understand the symbolism of Elisa's face in the Godstone and the wilderness surrounding the bold letters.

That is not the last point, and I am changing my review format just a little to explain more thoroughly here at the end why I did not *quite* love this book as I *should* have.

10. (--) That Special Spark -
  • Aha! Lists within a list! Anyway:  although I thought the religion was well-established, I think any time religion is mentioned, it's really hard to get everything right for every reader. Personally I thought that it was hypocritical of Elisa to point out how other people are trying to read God's will but accept her own attempts because she has doubts. And when she does read God's will or invokes the name of God and says that she is the Chosen One, it made me slip a little further from her. It's clear that she's devout and prays often and knows scripture by heart... but why shouldn't she recognize her own judgmental attitude towards others of the same religion? And yes, I'm being judgmental of judgmental behavior and the world goes round and round o.O.
  • A part of me is very, very afraid of how the Inviernos are portrayed. I dread the idea of colonialism themes coming to play in the next book.
  • I am one of the few who was dissatisfied with the way her weight issues were portrayed - it was too magical. Self-esteem / body appearance issues do not disappear when you've lost weight. To some extent, you can read her thinking of these issues less later as a function of her growing character development (queenly matters take precedence), but if anything, reading it that way makes me feel like the self-esteem issues were a cheap way of trying to get us to identify with Elisa. Of course we'll want to believe in this girl when clearly few others do and seem to take her for granted. And a part of me wonders, why did I like the portrayal of self-esteem issues in Bloodlines but not in this book? Because I got the sense from Sydney that it wasn't over, that three books later and with some added weight, it's *still* hard for her. My friend sent me this article: why must YA heroines change? To some extent, it's for the plot here; there's no way all that exercise and food rationing won't have an effect on Elisa's body, but it's the way beauty is handled that bothers me.
  • A part of me wants to blame the writing. While beautiful and vivid, truly evoking the wilderness surrounding Elisa on her quests, it is *really* hard for me to care with first person present narratives. First person present seems to only work for me if I've identified strongly with the MC or if the writing is poetic enough that I don't care if I haven't.
  • This review captures my feelings in this section well.

Now, despite my little rambling, let me say this: I will read the next book. Not only did I already buy it (and Loren, if you're reading this, finish the book and send it back soooon so we can discuss :P), but there is also no doubt in my mind that Rae Carson is talented. That this book *was* good, even if it failed to elicit the same level of feels that a technically well done book should. After all, this is how I think of The Fault in Our Stars, and I am not about to give John Green up for lost. This book, for me, was something akin to "Grave Mercy meets Bitterblue." I understand the Cashore comparisons (though I like her work more), and I would also recommend it to fans of Divergent, since the average heroines with promising potential both grow into strong, formidable leaders by the end.


Up Next: Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta



25 comments:

  1. Allison @ AbibliophobicAugust 5, 2013 at 7:22 AM

    I hate when this happens. You have a book that is written really well and you can tell the research was put in, but the story just falls flat. I felt like that with Abandon by Meg Cabot. It was written really well, the take on myth was great and the world building would have bene cool, but I just felt...blegh when reading it. Hopefully book two is more of a "wow" read for you! Great reveiw!

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  2. WOW! Goosebumps? :O I had no idea this was inspired by Spain. I like that it isn't just a fast-paced plot, but takes time to twist and turn and make the reader excited about what's next to come. Spoilerphobes--hahahahaha! Thanks, hon! The MC kinda confuses me with this Alejandro thing just as Rhine did with Linden in Wither. She despised him, but yet she didn't deny him any of the kisses he wanted and sometimes even enjoyed herself kissing him. *__* I haven't read past Wither though, so I hope she doesn't fall into that behaviour again since I'm pretty sure she'll be captured by Linden's Dad again in #2. I only know this cover and I LOVE it! It's so pretty:) I think that a lot of the times how the book is written--in 1st, 2nd, 3rd person, past/present--it all affects the way we read and the way we see the characters. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I'm sorry this missed that oomph factor to wow you, but at least most of the themes you pointed out were plusses so that must count for something:) I'm so glad you enjoyed this, sweetie!

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  3. Your review captured a lot of my feelings about this book. I liked it well enough, but there was just something missing for me. I have heard great things about the next one, though, and I agree with you, I was more interested in that certain person who I believe is featured a lot more in the next book. I was quite surprised by what happened with Alejandro, that's unusual. Gotta respect the author for that. I did order the next one from the library and I'll be reading it soon. Great review! ~Pam

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  4. Such a thorough review! I thought the second book was the strongest so I do hope you continue in the series and look forward to your thoughts. You're also lucky that you can read them back to back if you choose, because there is virtually no recap.

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  5. Not too sure about this one myself. It sounds a bit too fantasyish for me, but at the same time I have read some fantasy and liked it so really, fantasy just scares me lol!

    I am very iffy on books with religious themes. I think it takes a lot for them to be done well and I feel most of them aren't. I don't want to be preached at.

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  6. Interesting review! I feel like I came out of it confused. Haha. Not because you didn't explain yourself properly, but because I just don't know where I stand in wanting to read it. I still think I might possibly pick this one up sometime, but I don't know. Maybe I'll wait to see what you think of the sequel, since I have such difficulties with that? Still, great review. I just need to sort out my thoughts, lol.

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  7. I hope so too. I have heard some really great things about the second book, and a friend who's not hugely into YA romance loves the other interest in Crown of Embers. I hope that Underworld also improves for you, should you choose to continue with the Abandon trilogy!

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  8. Haha, I knew about the Spanish influence for two reasons: this book came out in September 2011 along with some other really hyped titles (Daughter of Smoke and Bone & Mara Dyer--all of which I tracked), and because even with my rudimentary Spanish, the terms are almost directly from the language. If I'm not mistaken, Invierno is Winter in Spanish.


    Yeah... arranged marriages in YA are so, so hard to pull off in a convincing way. When do you think you'll read Fever? Ha, I was so tempted to put something in here about Linden and Rhine and Vaughn to discuss, but since you praised my spoilerphobe part ;)...


    They did count for something--soon, I'll get to read the second book :D.

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  9. Alejandro--I respect the author for that, but also feel kind of disappointed. It would have been nice to see him grow too. Yay! Maybe you and I will be reading Crown of Embers around the same time and can compare notes :). I'm definitely looking forward to that certain person!

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  10. Ooh, that's good. She takes the Divergent-Insurgent approach and jumps right in. Well, I'll get to read them back to back once my friend finishes and send the book along :). I hope the second will work out for me as well as it did for you!

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  11. The thing with this book is that the religion is so incorporated into the world that it doesn't feel very preachy. In the few reviews that I'd seen when I finished the book and was on GR, it seemed as if that was generally agreed upon, even if people like me didn't like certain aspects of what happened. But I totally feel you on that--and fantasy. If I'm not in the right mood, it's hard to get into it!

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  12. Lol. Probably because I didn't have my own feelings sorted out very well. And then made my review really long o.O. I think a good test is to find an excerpt of it online. Really, if you can connect with Elisa and the writing from the beginning, I think you'll be golden. I'm waiting on my friend for the sequel, so it might be a bit :).

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  13. I see this book everywhere! I bought the first two, but haven't read either. I have friends that love it, ship Elisa and he-who-is-not-named on HP-levels of shipping, and I have friends that find a lot wrong with how Carson carries off her themes.


    That said, I am interested in it for a few of the reasons you mention, like the Spanish-inspired world. For such an interesting culture, not many (YA) novels delve into it for inspiration.


    I've read a few reviews that touch on the way body issues/the idea of beauty are covered. Honestly, it's one of the reasons I haven't yet started this. I get really frustrated with books that don't handle it well, and I'm not sure how I'd take Carson's version.



    I loved this review, though. And again, I want to state how much I enjoy the way your format your reviews. It's so helpful.



    And as an aside not about GoFaT -- I looooved Grave Mercy. I know a lot of my friends didn't, but I though Ismae was quite funny and readable. She could come across flat -- so I wonder how I will like Elisa when/if I get to this one.

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  14. Jenny @ Supernatural SnarkAugust 5, 2013 at 5:41 PM

    I definitely struggled with Elisa in the beginning as well Christina, this was almost a DNF for me after the first part because I just couldn't relate to her and didn't feel connected to her story at all. Once she got kidnapped and taken into the desert though, I saw so much growth in her and she continued to impress (in my opinion) for the remainder of the series. I'll be really interested to see what you think of the next two!

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  15. I know little Spanish thanks to all the soap operas I watched with both of my grandmas when I was little lol. Plus, it's easy for me since languages stuck with me easily. I didn't know about this one though since I've only seen the cover and though 'oh, that seems like a cool story' when I know nothing about it. I'm a cover junkie ;)


    I'll probably read it this month. Otherwise I'll forget all about it and probably not read it. I need to get a copy though, I didn't get them all since I wasn't sure if I'd like them or not. I think my review for Wither will be up this week.. Yep, just checked, it goes live on Thrs.

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  16. Awh, I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it as much as I did, but I'm happy that I see a lot of '+' points. I felt a great connection with Elisa, so I guess that's why I liked it more. Sometimes a character doesn't work for us. But I agree, the plot is where this book shines. I wasn't a fan of the romance here, but I think you might be in for a surprise in the next book :D

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  17. Yeah!! The romance in the next book looks like it'll be great. And it was definitely a good book, even if I hadn't formed the same kind of connection to Elisa, so thank you for recommending it :).

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  18. The only thing that bothered me about that growth was that it only seemed to occur when she was losing weight. Like the only time she could be powerful was after that? Meh! Well, it seems like she'll continue to grow, and I'm looking forward to seeing that in action in the next two as well.

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  19. Me too! And on HP levels really surprises me. He-who-is-not-named, I'm guessing, becomes really awesome in later books?


    I think not too many YA novels go into the intricacies of a lot of other cultures, like Spanish culture, so it's definitely appreciated here. And yeah, I wasn't a fan of how weight issues were handled. People praise her growth, but it's so connected to her body image and weight loss that it was frustrating to me. Maybe? it will be less so for you, if you dive into this one soon!


    Thanks, Jessie! And I loved Grave Mercy too. Ismae, in comparison to Elisa, seemed more spirited. So very eager, and Duval calls her bloodthirsty. She charmed me with that and her humor. I think the most humor I got from Elisa was a sort of self-deprecation. That must just be me though so...

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  20. Oh, sorry you didn't enjoy this one so much, but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts after Crown of Embers. I liked The Girl of Fire and Thorns, but I found the sequel much more impressive in terms of character growth, world-building...well, everything. Also, I listened to the audio of the first book and read the second. I think the audio -- performed by the awesome Jennifer Ikeda -- also enhanced the experience of book one for me, more than simply reading it alone would have, especially with all of the Spanish influence and the pronunciations that come with that. Oh, and if the romance didn't do it for you in this book, you'll probably appreciate the romance in book two much better...it really hits its stride and doesn't go all angle-y on you. :P

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  21. Oh yay! I shouldn't be glad that you didn't like this one all that much, but then at the same time it's nice that someone's pretty close to my feels about this book. The series does get better, as does Elisa. I've just never gotten beyond 2/2.5 stars for book one, and I've read it twice. Elisa's just so annoying to me in this one, but she does have a really slowly developing character arc which is pretty impressive, even if it means that book one was painful for me.


    Hahaha, I love that rant about characters not having sex when it would make sense for them to do so. I totally agree with that (and if she thought Wither was bad, the rest of the series will make her want to kill things).


    The Christian inspiration for the religion really pissed me off. It just rubs me the wrong way. Of course, I'm not a huge fan of religion all up in my books most of the time anyway.


    Based on reviews for the third book, I think the colonialism thing really becomes an issue.


    That's definitely an issue with first person. The book basically has to be perfection itself for me to love an MC that I've not connected with in first person. If you identify with them, first person makes the book super easy to love, but the reverse is also true.


    Oh, thanks for the link! I really wish this had had a spark for me, but nope. Book two though was awesome, even though my initial issues lingered, they became more minor and there's a lot of Hector.

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  22. I'm with you, Jen. I think that I would have found Elisa's voice much better had I listened to the audiobook. I think an audiobook narrator would have evoked something more in the voice and the descriptions. I loved Grave Mercy, but when I listened to the audiobook via audiosyncbooks, well, now all I can think of is how the narrator's voice sounded and how she brought Ismae to life.


    I'm definitely looking forward to the romance in the second and also seeing if Elisa grows on me. Everyone seems to concur that it's the best so far of them :)

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  23. Haha, no, I understand what you mean. I was glad you and Tatiana had posted reviews that got at what bothered me too. It sucks to be alone in the camp of those who don't quite understand the hype of a certain book.


    I don't think she's going to get around to the other Chemical Gardens books lol. Seriously, though, there was no explanation for that except for Arina. Maybe. Alejandro's a weakling in war, but dude's got a son.


    Me too. Most religion references really, really rub me the wrong way, but I thought this one was at least okay, since it was so ingrained in the world.


    You mean like with you and Tris :P? Sometimes I don't understand the popularity of first person. I think, with more and more books that I read, I'm becoming a huge third person fan.


    Yay!!! I've heard the same from a lot of other people, which is good to know. Always hope for the sequel!

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  24. I was very happy how the religion was handled in FandT. (Is it just me, or is it weird that the initials spell out GoFaT?)

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  25. bahahahhahaha omg, I never even noticed that. Interesting that that should happen even though I didn't really get that feeling in the book.

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