Sunday, July 15, 2012

Review: THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS by Rae Carson

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.
You know, one of these days I'm going to sit down and read a book that doesn't completely trample my expectations into the dust. I mean, seriously, what the heck, Carson?!

Really, I don't think it's my fault on this one. There's no way the description above could have prepared me for what I was getting into. And that's okay, because it was kind of fun to watch my expectations shatter into teeny, tiny pieces. I'd come to expect, without realizing it, certain elements from my fantasy books, and Ms. Carson booted some of the big ones out the door without hesitation.

1. Do not expect a typical fantasy setting. By "typical," I mean European. You'd think it would be, right? After all her name's Elisa, and EVERYBODY bases their world in a vaguely Lord of the Rings-type setting, right? Wrong. Because the princess's full name is Lucero-Elisa, and dagnabit if we weren't somewhere in Central/South America.

I'm not kidding! Her father is Papa with an accent on the end, her sister is Juana-Alodia, her nurses are Aneaxi and Ximena, and she meets people named Cosme and Humberto and Hector and Luz-Manuel and Jacian. They have steaming rainforests with painted tribesmen and scorching deserts and sandstorms and priests who perform Masses and they all speak in a language that is faintly Spanish (maybe Portuguese?).

Not to be a blathering, stereotyping white girl here, but it was like I opened my mouth to take a bite of a cool mint leaf and instead bit into a tamale. And I loved it! I felt like I really was in another world, a world that shared just enough similarities with my world that I could follow, but just enough differences that I sometimes felt like it was another planet entirely.

2. Do not expect a typical heroine. Oh wow. Elisa... oh wow. What a transformation this girl puts herself through. She starts the book as a weak-kneed, ineffective, bookish, socially awkward, fat (perhaps even obese, by the descriptions) sixteen-year-old girl, more suited to life in a convent than on a throne.

As to what she becomes by the end of the book... well, I won't ruin that for you, but I can tell you her transformation was hard-won. None of this fairy godmother "poof, problem solved!" stuff. There is a heavy amount of literal blood, sweat, and tears that this girl pours out to take her fate into her own hands.

Oh, and did I mention that the source of her power, her Godstone, is conveniently placed in her belly button? Yeah, that's right. Not her forehead or her hand or on a string around her neck. Her belly button. The belly button which resides in her very plump tummy, so no blingy belly-dancer effect going on here either.

3. Do not expect typical magic. Sure, people do magical things. Elisa's Godstone can warn her of danger and stuff - that's a magical thing. But it isn't magic. See, Elisa's Godstone is her connection to, well, God. It warms her and comforts her when she prays, grows icy in the presence of evil, etc. Like I said, there are priests in this story and sacred texts written in the "Lengua Classica." Ah, my foe Latin, I see you have returned to haunt me.

The best part is the book tries to deal with the very real situation that occurs when many different people all think that they FOR SURE know the will of God, but they're all contradicting each other. Everything circles back to God's will and having a plan/destiny for one's life, even if it's something as simple as building a well in a certain place. I, for one, liked that aspect.

4. Do not expect a simple plot. My head aches just a bit from all the politics. They're good politics, necessary politics, but picturing things on too grand of a scale tends to make me dizzy. Elisa's from Orovalle, but her husband's from Joya d'Arena. Then you've got the Invierne, the Perditos, the coastal areas, the hill areas...

Everyone wants something. Some people are good, some people are bad, and most places have mixtures of each kind. Elisa has no idea who she can trust, who she can turn to. Everyone is suspect.

5. Do not expect a typical romance. I can't really tackle this point without giving away spoilers, but I will say that the king doesn't feature very much in this book, but that when he does pop in and out, he makes an impact. There's kiiiinda a love triangle, but not really, but sort of... I know, not much help, am I?

I will say that that there was a guy I secretly started rooting for near the very beginning of the book (won't say if it's the king or not), and I was very relieved when he made it out alive by the end. He's a great guy, Elisa, just give him a chance, that's all I'm saying. Which brings me to my final point...

6. Do not expect everyone to make it out alive. Really, Ms. Carson is rather savage in her treatment of her characters. A whole freaking lot of people die. Important people! People that I really, really wanted to be left alive.

So yes, my expectations were completely mangled, and I am totally okay with that.

Points Added For: Being stinking awesome enough to ditch the European-type setting, God stuff, Elisa being cool, Rosario.

Points Subtracted For: Not totally selling me on the romance presented (I'm hoping that means that the romance I want is coming in the second book), being really intricate politically, that one scene at Trevino's where Elisa takes the knife and... Oh, I squirm just thinking about it.

Good For Fans Of: The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner, the Graceling series by Kristin Cashore, epicness.

Notes For Parents: No language that I can remember, but there's some really squeamish violence, mentions of boobs.

Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

See my review for the sequel, The Crown of Embers, here.