My sister hates me. I’ve known it for years. Nurse Ximena says it’s because I was chosen by God for an act of Service and Juana-Alodia was not. God should have chosen her; she is athletic and sensible, elegant and strong. Better than two sons, Papa says. I study her as I chew my pastry, her shining black hair and chiseled cheeks, the arched eyebrows that frame confident eyes. I hate her right back (p 4).
Once every century, someone is chosen by God to perform an act of service. When Princess Elisa of Orovalle was an infant, God chose her, planting a gem in her naval.
Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she is to be married to the King Alejandro of Joya. The union will provide troops to Joya for their impending war against the Invierne and a safe place for the bearer of the Godstone. But then Elisa is kidnapped and brought to the front lines of a war that has, unknown to its king, already started. Elisa becomes a part of the resistant, all the while trying to understand a sacred text that portends the mission of God’s chosen.
There are many aspects of this book I enjoyed. Though it starts calmly enough, it isn’t long before the pace picks up and continues throughout. Poignant scenes gracefully provide breaks in the action. Elisa is a well-developed character, as are many secondary characters. Even those we see little of take shape nicely, like King Alejandro and Alodia.
Yet, for all that, I didn’t find myself as emotionally invested in this book as I did with others like it (namely, Graceling and Fire – books this one is oft compared to). It didn’t delve far enough into the political atmosphere. Though Elisa was a brilliant strategist, she’s not really playing the game like Gen (The Thief) or Raisa (Seven Realms), though I could certainly see this developing in the next two books.
Perhaps it is that I am an atheist and religious explorations like these hold little interest for me anymore. Fantasy based in religion allows for deus ex machina resolutions. Yes, Elisa developed into a strong young woman but her hasty, half-understood victory at the denouement came via the hand of God. Earlier, though Elisa prays fervently for the health of her friends, God does not answer. If anthing, this novel reinforced in me the belief that acting in the name of God is not right. Even Elisa’s prayer in the heat of battle felt wrong to me.
Dear God almighty, please deliver my enemies into my hands (p 413).
Instead of entreating God’s will be done, Elisa is asking for the power to deal with her enemies. The Invierne think they are fulfilling God’s will (and I would like to learn more about their motivations). Elisa thinks she is fulfilling God’s will. No one is saying, “God, do as you will and I will accept it.”
Well, these are minor, and perhaps personal, quibbles. This book has a lot of teen appeal. The writing is good (I think it could tighten its belt a bit) and I’m sure it will elicit many questions in the youth reading it; always a good thing. Head over to A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy for a great review of all I liked about the book. It’s a book that will stick with me and I look forward to the sequel.
Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore
Mistwood by Leah Cypress
The Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima
The Shamer’s Daughter by Lene Kaaberbol
Finnikin of the Rock by Lelinda Marchetta
Read other reviews:
A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy
The Allure of Books
Good Books and Good Wine
Advance Reader Copy | Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers | September 20, 2011 | 432 pages | ISBN 978-0-06-202648-4 | $17.99