Published by: Greenwillow / HarperCollins
Recommended by: Mel (The Daily Prophecy)
Christina Reads Your RecommendationsA Reader of Fictions' Sadie Hawkins SundaySend 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."
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