September 11, 2012

Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Published: 2011, Greenwillow
Series: Fire and Thorns, #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Personal ebook
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Alentín assured me that everyone has doubts. But it seems as though I am the only one without a single idea about what God wants from me. I am his bearer, and I understand nothing.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns has been highly recommended, and with the sequel coming out later this fall I figured that it was time to give this story a chance. After all, when have I ever been able to turn down a high fantasy with a strong female protagonist?

Elisa, the second princess of the kingdom of Oravalle, is one of the bearers of the Godstone. Chosen ones, whose importance has been marked by God himself, are incredibly rare. It is believed that one chosen to bear the Godstone has been given a mission assigned by God. Everyone seems to expect greatness from Elisa: her new husband, the people of Joya d'Arena, the people of Oravalle, and even those who live far across the reaches of the desert. Elisa is led to wonder, however, whether she'd ever be capable of such greatness, or whether she'd even die before completing her mission. Bearing a Godstone is not quite the honor most people assume it is.

The worldbuilding for The Girl of Fire and Thorns is very well done. It reminded me of a mix of Spanish and Italian cultures, through their languages in particular. I am a Hispanophile, so any book that refers to Spanish culture and language already gets major points by me, and it definitely made the book more unique than if Carson simply chose another typical English-inspired world. Although I love maps, I felt like I had a pretty good sense of the world without a map included. My favorite aspect of this book, however, is the religion by far. Fantasy books with solid and well-constructed religions are always a good thing for me. I don't necessarily care what sort of culture the religion derives from, but featuring a religious belief system is for me simply another way that shows the author really understands this world he or she has constructed. Whether or not everyone believes in the religion is irrelevant just as in our world, people will have different beliefs. But no one can deny the power of strong religious systems and how they influence the lives of others. Elisa's religion is solidly built. She and many of the inhabitants of her world believe in a god who selects a chosen one every century, one who accepts prayers through fingerpricks on rose thorns, and one who is slowly drifting away from popularity. 

As a protagonist Elisa has so much potential. She is such an atypical protagonist: the overweight second royal daughter in a small kingdom who bears a Godstone in her navel, an inexplicable and unfathomable chosen one of her god. Because of her Godstone, Elisa is treated with reverence. But she, first and foremost, doesn't truly believe she is anything special or worthy of God's blessing. Over the course of the novel Elisa does undergo a dramatic character arc and changes into a much more confident young woman. I'll agree with other reviewers who have said that it is a tad problematic that Elisa's newfound confidence does seem to coincide with her weight loss, but relying on simply that argument is a huge simplification. I think her trial through the desert brings about many changes for Elisa weight loss, but also the realization that life is much bigger than what she's known and she herself is a small part of a bigger picture. 

There are aspects here and there that seem to make Elisa's characterization a little troubling: after avoiding courts, conflicts, and politics for years she is suddenly able to offer up military strategy; she has not one but two love interests, neither of which rang particularly true to me; she struggles but ultimately seems to be successful in all that she seeks to accomplish. BUT. I think that Carson has created enough distinctive characteristics on Elisa's part that she cannot truly be considered a Mary Sue. She undergoes serious character growth. Both of her love interests aren't truly love interests and are nonessential in terms of her own growth and power. I can't really explain away Elisa's battle tactics knowledge, but I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for that. I do wish, however, that I had a better understanding of Elisa's initial lack of self-confidence that led to problems like her overeating. That issue wasn't addressed enough for me. I wanted to know why Elisa felt the need to overeat and remain in the shadows.

It would be a disservice to simply state that the novel is about Elisa's personal growth. Though she does grow, the story is so much bigger than that. Carson makes political and social commentaries about Elisa's world, and Elisa's growth is very much dependent on her ability to understand the problems that plague her society and work together with others to find solutions. Elisa is a character who is observant and empathetic. She stands in stark contrast to her husband's and her family's attitudes towards war and how it affects people. But I also loved seeing how the ongoing wars with the Invierne has affected marginal groups of people. It's always powerful to see/read/learn about how people are willing to interpret situations like wars in different ways depending on their personal investments. 

There were issues I had here and there with Elisa's characterization, but overall I enjoyed reading The Girl of Fire and Thorns and am definitely looking forward to reading The Crown of Embers.
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. I've actually been holding off on reading this one, probably until the series finishes up, but I'm so happy to see another wonderful review for it. I'm particularly excited about the atypical heroine, and the fact that the world has a Romantic feel to it. I feel as if lately, most fantasy is very Anglo or Germanic in world building, which I enjoy, but this seems so much more fun and unique.

    1. I applaud your perseverance. Waiting until an extremely hyped up series is over is difficult to do. And, yes, I do love all those Anglo and Germanic worlds, but this was refreshingly different. Thanks for stopping by, Heidi!

  2. I LOVED this book! And the second one too. Elisa is a character that has shown enormous growth. As for her eating, I took it as she's always been kind of pushed aside in her own family. Her sister was the one that got the attention and everyone was always harping on Elisa. I'm just going by memory here since it's been over a year since I read it, but that's what I have in my head.
    I hope you love the second one too!

    1. I am so jealous you've already read the second one! Thanks! Can't wait to read it myself! And what you say makes sense. I just wish it was addressed a little more in the book. If Elisa's sister had such an effect on her growing up, it would have been nice for it to be a little more explicit, I think. But that's only a minor complaint of mine.

  3. Yay! I'm so glad you enjoyed this one, Amanda! I can't wait for the sequel and like you, I adored the world-building and can't wait to see where Elisa's journey's take her next. I've heard a LOT about Crown of Embers, so let's hope it lives up to all our expectations! :)

    1. Thanks, Keertana! Yes, the first part was pretty enjoyable and I so hope the sequel is great!


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