Fantasy novels have always appealed to me, although I’m a bit of a picky fantasy enthusiast – I can be a little hard to please, and I often start books of this genre with a hint of skepticism in my heart. However, they still draws me in despite my reservations, so after a few months of eyeing The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, I decided it was time to give it a try, and I’m glad I did.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns takes place in a world with a Spanish influence (and some Spanish-inspired words). It centers on a young girl, the second daughter of a king, who has been betrothed to the ruler from a neighbouring kingdom. Elisa has always compared herself to her older sister, Alodia, who was born to rule and carries herself with confidence and poise. Alodia demands respect, and gets it! Elisa, on the other hand, is overweight, shy, and suffers from a lack of self-confidence; she thinks people tend to overlook her, and she doesn’t entirely mind that they do. Her feelings of inadequacy are made all the worse by the fact that she is the Chosen One, gifted at birth with a gemstone in her navel, called a godstone, a sign that she has been called to complete a great service. Over the years, many have been gifted with a godstone, and many have completed their great service, but some died before they could and Elisa fears, above all else, that she will be unable to complete her service – perhaps she will even be found unworthy.
When she reaches her new home and meets her betrothed she feels completely out-of-place and judged by her new countrymen. She believes that they see her as a necessary price for a strategic alliance, as their kingdom is plagued with the near-constant threat of war. As time passes, Elisa slowly beings to settle into her new role and makes an impression on King Alejandro and his subjects. And then everything changes. Elisa is suddenly abducted and taken to the far east of the kingdom where a war that she thought long-resolved is raging.
This book has a lot going for it. Carson is a master of pacing; when you start the novel, you are slowly introduced to the world and the mythology as you get to know Elisa. Before you know it, you find yourself in the middle of political intrigue and maneuvering. As a reader, you struggle for your footing along with Elisa, so it was really easy to establish a rapport with the main character. And just as you get comfortable with the political scheming in Brisadulce, Carson flips things around, and you find yourself following Elisa as she ends up in the middle of a guerrilla-style war.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns was full of surprises, and it’s fun when a book keeps you unbalanced. Every time I thought I had a handle on where things were going, the author switched things around. She also created very elaborate characters. I really appreciated that the people populating her book were neither fully good or fully evil. For example King Alejandro is handsome and charming, but he’s indecisive (not a great characteristic in a king) and can be insensitive and self-centered. And much like the characters, the world that Carson has built is impressively detailed and realistic.
While this book is the first in a trilogy, the novel can stand alone, although once you’ve finished it, you will probably want to read the sequel, The Crown of Embers. The final novel in the series, The Bitter Kingdom, comes out at the end of the summer, and I, for one, can’t wait to see how this all wraps up.