The Girl of Fire and Thorns
September 20th 2011
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. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.
Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.
Most of the chosen do.
I love fantasy. It's something that I only fairly recently learnt about myself, but I do. High fantasy is an amazing genre. And Girl of Fire and Thorns is easily one of the best high fantasy books that I've read, full stop. It had the perfect combination of an amazingly well realised setting, incredible character development, well done relationships and a ruthless plot (and if you've read it, you'll know what I mean. I'm still a bit in shock.)
Elisa was a wonderful character. The easiest way for me to explain her arc to you is that she's a bit like a crossover between Sansa Stark and Dany Targaeryen (though that last one might be a little bit because Elisa sounds a bit like Khaleesi). She's both thrown suddenly into court which she has to learn to navigate to survive, and she has to learn to take authority and become a ruler. And there's a lot of stuff that happens with her in the desert when she starts to take the lead on a small rebellion with the Hill people. That last sentence probably didn't make any sense to you whatsoever, but it's difficult to explain. What I'm trying to say is that she is a really, really well developed character who undergoes a lot of physical and emotional changes due to a lot of suffering and sacrifice, and having to change just to learn to cope and move on from those things.
The world building was awesome. Just Rae Carson's prose alone blew my socks off (I cannot believe that this is a debut novel), and you can tell that each sentence has been crafted with purpose. Usually with beautifully written books, it can sometimes feel like the plot is dragging a bit because they can get a bit bogged down with description, but I didn't feel that happen very often with Girl and Fire and Thorns. The balance between description and action felt just about right. I loved the world, too. It was a bit like, Spain/Mediterranean mixed with North Africa mixed with the Middle East - the overall impression being hot and sandy. It was refreshing for me to read a fantasy that wasn't set in a more English Medieval-type setting, and I really liked the way the culture was expressed, as well as the way that the religion aspect was intertwined in the story.
In fact, the religious aspect is going to get it's own paragraph. My main worry with Girl of Fire and Thorns was that the Religion would be too much and that it would start to feel a bit preachy, but because it's a fantasy it isn't really a specified religion anyway and it wasn't as much about God as it was about Elisa's relationship with God and her coming to terms with why she was chosen and what she was supposed to do. It worked really well, and if it was something that may have been putting you off of reading it, then I assure you that it only enriches the novel's world and our understanding of the characters.
The cast of side characters is also awesome. Elisa, before she was married to Alejandro, had never really had that many friends apart from her lady's maids Aneaxi and Ximena, and while they both go with to Joya D'Arena (the country that Alejandro is king of), she soon gets separated from them. When she's in the desert, we get to meet Humberto and his sister Cosme who guide her across the desert to where the Hill people live near the outskirts of the country, and she realises that the war with Invierne had never really ended, and that they were still attacking the villages and burning them down. I loved Humberto from about the first page we met him, but Cosme ended up being one of my favourite characters by the end, too. She's very guarded and can be mean and unfriendly, but her and Elisa also end up being really good friends by the end. Also, Lord Hector. I cannot wait to see more with him and Elisa in the next book, and I kind of hope that he'll end up being the love interest. But even if he isn't, I like his and Elisa's friendship a lot (reminds me a little bit of Ser Jorah and Dany. Okay, enough withdrawing GoT parallels.)
Another of my favourite things about this book is that even though it's the first book of a trilogy it was also a story of it's own. It didn't just feel like a book that was setting up the overall plot of a series, it was all like one, closed off story. I think that it must have set up a lot of things for the next books, too, but I really enjoyed getting to read a book in a series without it ending on a horrible cliffhanger. And I'm really, really glad that it is a trilogy because I would be really upset it that was it and I didn't get to spend any more time in these character's world.
I definitely haven't covered everything in this review, but I really did love this book, and I happily recommend it to anyone who's a fan of high fantasy because it is just so good. I need to find a copy of Crown of Embers right now.