Monday, September 19, 2011
Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Series: Fire and Thorns #1
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Elisa is barely sixteen, but already she is the secret wife of a king whose country is on the brink of war and the latest in a long line of God's chosen ones -- it's a lot for a teenage princess to handle. The Godstone she bears brings her comfort and warning in times of danger, but it also places a heavy burden on her young shoulders -- a burden she's not sure she's fit to bear. As Elisa is drawn into a secret revolution, where traitors lurk at every turn and no one can be trusted, she must learn to embrace her destiny and face her fate -- even if that means an early death.
In The Girl of Fire and Thorns, the starkly different realms come to life through Rae Carson's vivid descriptions. Both the language and the landscape are influenced by Spanish culture, with the sandstone walls of Brisadulce seeming to grow organically from the vast desert of Joya d'Arena. The Spanish phrases enrich the text without confusing readers, and the lilt and rhythm of the prose is mesmerizing. This world features a rich history, mythology and religion, with only the barest echoes of our own. The mythology of the Godstones is fascinating, a history reaching back for generations and usually boding ill for the bearer. Elisa has been kept in the dark for much of her life, and readers will delight in discovering the enigmatic powers of the Godstone, and the ominous fate of God's chosen, alongside the young heroine.
Though God and the Godstone are at the heart of this story, it is not a sermon. Carson takes a thoughtful and honest look at the religion of her world, drawing insightful parallels to our own. Every faction of the war believes they are doing "God's will," and what that means depends entirely on which side of the line they stand on. Elisa is honest about her own doubts and utter lack of understanding of this inscrutable God, despite being the bearer, which prevents her from seeming self-righteous and makes it easy to cheer for her success. Though she's a princess and a chosen one, she's utterly relatable -- just the sweet and sensitive girl-next-door.
This is truly Elisa's story, and her growth is the highlight of this epic tale. The secondary cast is large, and the characters are vibrant and unique, not mere plot devices but a network of confidantes and enemies, friends and family for Elisa to depend on, who carry her to the brink of destiny. It's clear from the start that Elisa has the potential for greatness, saving the life of a king even before her journey of self-discovery -- she need only recognize it. When the novel opens, she is very young, both in age (16) and in experience. She is timid and self-conscious, always treated like a child by her father and sister, afraid to make her own choices or face her fate.
As she is drawn into the thick of high-flying schemes and dangerous war games, readers see Elisa grow into a strong leader, a just ruler, and an insightful counselor. Though she has love interests, they are by no means vital to Elisa's growth-- a refreshing change of pace from heroines whose development depends solely on her relationship with a male lead. She still has her doubts from time to time, and certainly isn't trained as a warrior (how many princesses are?), but she uses her sharp wits and careful study to take charge in times of crisis. By the end of the novel, Elisa has accrued quite a few awe-inspiring adventures, and earned the respect of both herself and the people around her. She is resourceful and self-reliant, comfortable in her own skin and prepared to confront her destiny.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns contains more than a few surprising twists -- not all of them pleasant. Carson is not afraid to hit readers where it hurts, and that directness is admirable in a market replete with happily-ever-afters. This is not a fairy tale, though it is fantasy. This is a tale of war and magic, love and loss, struggles for power and -- most of all -- the joys and heartaches of growing up.
Disclosure: I received an advance galley of this novel from the publisher for an honest review.
Part of the 2011 Debut Author Challenge.