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.
To be honest, I didn't expect this book to be anything particularly special. Maybe a typical YA fantasy with a lot of tropes and a middling entertainment level. Definitely something I could and would enjoy, just perhaps not that moving or groundbreaking. But I WAS SO WRONG. I loved this book. It was new and different and much darker than I expected.
Wise and Brave Heroine: CHECK
The definite focal point of this book is Elisa and her character development. I was completely fine with that because she was such a well-written character and there was a LOT of development to keep things interesting. I also loved that she was both very devoutly religious AND an expert strategist. Those are things I haven't seen in many YA girls before and was delighted to find in Elisa. Her weight also had a larger impact on the progression of the story than I thought going in (which again, is something not often read in YA, but that I think is a good topic to address). I could tell the author understood how Elisa would feel through the book and took pains to make sure her boost in confidence had more to do with her attitude and less with her size. Another thing that I loved about Elisa is that she created the story, rather than letting the story create her. Her improvements and developments came from conscious decisions that she made. She was deeply involved in the war and in the politics and in the Malficio.
Kind and Courageous Hero: CHECK
Yes, there were some romantic relationships in this book. Elisa was married to Alejandro (even though it was sort of a sham) and she loved Humberto. But, I love that even after the first book, we don't know if she is going to end up with someone and we don't care. I love that she doesn't need any romantic interest to be confident and brave. That being said, I did really love Humberto and I thought Alejandro was an interesting character.
Humberto: I really loved him as a character. He was respectful and brave and funny and sweet. So naturally, he had to go (I think that's the way most authors operate ;) ). I had a creeping suspicion through the last few chapters with him that something terrible was going to happen, and of course, it did. And I'm pretty sure I'm going to miss him in Crown of Embers, but I like that Rae Carson wasn't afraid to get rid of what felt like vitally important characters. She didn't kill them just to kill them, but she wasn't shy about the losses of war either.
Alejandro: He was a more complex character (and most of the time, not in a good way). When we first met him, I thought I was going to like him, but then I slowly realized that he was sort of a coward. But, he is a fascinating character. He's indecisive and wishy-washy, but he's also king (which typically isn't a good mix).
Extraordinary Side Characters: CHECK
There were lots of side characters that we met, but few that we really got to know. That being said, the ones we did see a lot of were really great.
Father Alentin and Nicario: I loved them both for how helpful and funny they were. I laughed out loud when Alentin talked about stealing the Homer's Afflatus from the monastery.
Mara: Another side character that I loved. She was sort of awkward sometimes and also bittersweet, but I could tell she'd been through a lot as a refugee. I'm definitely going to read The Shattered Mountain (the E-novella that Rae Carson wrote about her past).
Cosme: She was probably my favorite minor character (or maybe tied with Rosario). She was just so difficult to figure out, but in a good way. I wanted to know more about her and why she stayed so closed-off to the world and to Elisa. But then we learn she's this super awesome spy and a healer AND a desert guide. She's just full of all kinds of secret-greatness. I like how even after this one book I still feel like I don't understand her quite yet.
Rosario: He wasn't in much of the story, but I loved the little dude. I'm excited to read more of his interactions with Elisa because they were always funny and sweet at the same time.
Hector: I don't quite know what to think about Hector yet. I like him. I think he's a good guy. But, I've been kind of spoiled as to what happens between him and Elisa, so I'm curious to see how that comes about.
Great Plot and Writing: CHECK
There was a lot going on in this book, but it was never overwhelming. I loved all of the trips they went on and the dangerous missions and stuff. There was a lot of traveling and plan-changing and political maneuvering. Things kept changing and rearranging and it always kept you intrigued as to what was coming next. And there was always mystery surrounding what the godstone could do and what Elisa should do. The writing was equally amazing. It flowed very nicely and even sentences that could have been boring were pretty.
New and Intriguing Themes: CHECK
This book covered difficult topics well, and not just one, but a lot of difficult topics. It covered religious zeal and how people manipulate what they think is "the will of God." It also spoke deeply to how weight ties in to perceived beauty and self-esteem. It spoke sometimes avoided truths about each of these topics that felt true to life as well as the book.
"I realize with a start. I, too, could let myself be paralyzed into indecision, into weakness."
"Honor from death," I snap, "is a myth. Invented by the war torn to make sense of the horrific. If we die, it will be so that others may live. Truly honorable death, the only honorable death, is one that enables life."
"God's will. How many times have I heard someone declare their understanding of this thing I find so indefinable?”