This book surprised me a little. I’ve been kind of OD’d on YA literature for the past couple of months or so, and this book was a breath of fresh air. It’s not that it was GREAT or anything, but it was incredibly solid and actually really well-written, which is a REALLY nice change of pace for this sort of book. Part of the reason I’m kind of over YA lit right now (despite the fact that I for some reason continue to read it?) is that so much of it is poorly written. There’s nothing particularly mind-blowing about The Girl of Fire and Thorns, but what’s there is remarkably competent, and Rae Carson actually manages to do some really fresh things with her characters even as the basic arc of her story remains pretty standard.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns begins with our heroine, Elisa, the princess of a small kingdom in a vaguely jungle-like area of the world being married off to a man she’s never met before, the king of a nearby country. Elisa is smart but very unsure of herself, and very self-conscious about her weight and general sense of worth. Elisa was born special (because of course she was) — in Carson’s world, one person in a century is blessed with a jewel called the Godstone that lives in her navel (yes, lives) that supposedly connects directly to God. This person is called the Bearer and is destined to serve her people in some way, although the specifics aren’t clear. Elisa has been raised to know that her life is not her own, and her marriage to King Alejandro is a direct result of her being the Bearer.
But when Elisa reaches her new kingdom, her marriage is kept a secret, and her handsome husband is kind but aloof. On top of all that, she’s kidnapped by a group of rebels who believe her to be their savior, and that’s when the book gets interesting.
Elisa’s journey as a character is really interesting. As the book goes on her self-confidence grows as does her role in the world she inhabits. In many ways this is a book about how a child grows into being a leader, but it’s also a sneaky study of religion and faith and love. I really appreciated Carson’s writing style as she doesn’t always do the expected thing or the safe thing (for instance, SPOILER Elisa’s love interest, Humberto, is killed off by the end of the book, where any other YA book — cough Delirium cough — would have chickenshitted out and kept him alive END SPOILER). Instead, she picks the brave thing, which also most often happens to be the interesting thing. The religion in the book is central, a sort of magical pseudo-Catholicism, and the world is populated by mixed cultures. Elisa herself I would describe as being Hispanic in inspiration. It was a huge relief to not read a YA world that was completely white-washed. It felt fresh.
If you’re fantasy fan or a YA fan at all, check this one out. Again, it wasn’t like I came out of this thinking OMG BEST BOOK EVER, but it was so wonderfully competent and surprising that I’m really glad I read it.