Once every generation, God chooses a child that is destined for service. This time around, it’s Princess Elisa. But unlike her perfect older sister, Elisa doesn’t seem to be exactly “chosen” material. She’s the second daughter, not very confident or adept at politics, and overweight. But despite her shortcomings, God chose her, as evidenced by the Godstone in her bellybutton—a gemlike thing that gets hot and cold based on how good or bad her situation is. And Alejandro, the king of the neighboring country also chose her, to be his wife and queen. So Elisa is whisked off to her new husband’s kingdom, but she isn’t there very long before she is kidnapped by a small group of rebels focused on fighting off an evil country attempting to invade Elisa’s old and new country. Now, Elisa must learn to stand up against the powers that be, learn to understand her role as God’s chosen, and find herself in the process.
While Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns is not my favorite fantasy book, I enjoyed it for one main reason. It is different than the typical strain of young adult novels in many ways. It’s set in a more Arab-inspired culture, as opposed to the Anglophile European leanings of most novels. The heroine is self-admittedly fat, even though that changes a little throughout the book. And she’s interested in studying religious texts than running a kingdom.
The romance relationships are also very different. In most YA today, the romantic relationship is the center of the book. In Girl of Fire and Thorns, the central relationship is actually Elisa and herself, as she works to discover her own identity and purpose. In modern YA, the romantic relationship is also very intense and obvious. The reader knows which character the protagonist should end up with. Sorry, Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins, it was never a mystery. But in Cason’s book, it’s never clear cut. After marrying (but not consummating the marriage) Alejandro, Elisa wants to develop feelings for her new husband. But then when she’s kidnaps, she meets a very different boy and develops feelings for him. And based on how the plot plays out—don’t worry, no spoilers here—I don’t think that either of those two characters is Elisa’s true love interest. The point is that the romance is not clear cut, even though Elisa cares for both characters. And that’s a little closer to real life than the burning passions of many YA novels.
I liked The Girl of Fire and Thorns because it ventured to be different than other books in its genre. That being said, it’s not perfect. I always appreciate more world building. I would much prefer to read 50 pages of exposition (like in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings) and understand the world completely than have exposition woven “artfully” throughout the entire book and not truly understand the world even after getting 100 pages into the story. For the record, I am all for exposition dumping, even though I know writer’s are not supposed to do that. But I enjoyed Carson’s novel, and I look forward to reading the next book, The Crown of Embers, to see how Elisa continues to develop as a character.