The Girl of Fire and Thornes by Rae Carson (9/20/2011)

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.

Read Alikes:
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
Book Smugglers
Good Books and Good Wine
Melanie’s Musings
Miss Print

Advance Reader Copy | Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers | September 20, 2011 | 432 pages | ISBN 978-0-06-202648-4 | $17.99

8 thoughts on “The Girl of Fire and Thornes by Rae Carson (9/20/2011)

  1. It’s funny that you mention Gen, because I also see this as Elisa perhaps developing into Gen. And much as I love Gen (fangirl sigh over Gen), I also adore that it looks like with Elisa we’ll see what we haven’t seen from Gen — how someone becomes. Gen always is the plotter, the thinking 3 steps ahead guy, and while he’s developed in some areas, from book 1 he was way ahead of us all. I look forward to seeing Elisa become that person.

  2. I agree the religious slant to this book made some of it less compelling for me than others (though I also have my own issues with Graceling and Fire). I liked Elisa and the world Carson built but the correlation between Elisa coming into her own AS she lost weight bothered me. I also had mixed feelings about Humberto and his role in the story.

  3. LizB: I’m invested enough that I will read the sequel. I also look forward to seeing Elisa and the political sphere develop. That’s a great point about Gen. I didn’t think of it that way but Elisa certainly has the know-how. I’m wondering, if we take away the God element, can she manuever and be successful on her own? Though, now I think on it, even Gen had some help from his God. Hum….

    missprint: I agree. Great world building. The tie between weight and the self is tricky. Does confidence effect weight or does weight effect confidence? I thought Elisa’s weight issue was complex. She was coddled and craved sweets. She was kept busy and forced to exercise and diet so she lost weight. By the end, she knew she could eat what she wanted and those who loved her wouldn’t care, so long as she was happy. She accepted that she was not her sister.

    I’m curious though. What were your issues with Cashore’s books? Did you post about it?

  4. I agree that Elisa’s weight was a much bigger thing and ultimately handled well. I just . . . wish she had some chance to come into her own a little bit BEFORE she slimmed down, you know?

    I think I’m the only person in the entire world who was underwhelmed by Katsa and Po as a pair. I didn’t buy Katsa’s intense aversion to marriage and I just couldn’t accept Po’s injuries at the end which seemed to have no purpose in the larger plot. In Fire I disliked Fire’s decision re: children and her injuries. It’s probably just me, which is fine, but it colors my reading of the books.

    (Both of my reviews are posted and linked in my Review Index page but I don’t want to clog your comments here with long links.)

  5. missprint: I’ve added links to your blog posts. I wish WordPress would allow for commenters to do it themselves with html but, oh well! I think I’ll pop over there to respond but your insights are interesting and I’m pondering how I feel about them.

    As to Elisa’s weight, it took Elisa a while to realize she actually lost a fair amount of weight. It simply wasn’t important to her when people around her were being driven from their homes, maimed, or killed. It wasn’t until some romantic elements were introduced or she returned to court that it came up. And, for me, that’s how it’s supposed to be.

    Sure, being slim feels great, but ultimately, it’s not usually important. (And not everyone who is slim is healthy. I love that Elisa was getting healthy – i.e. she could walk across a desert or scale a mountain). For Elisa, being fat wasn’t the problem. It was a symptom. I don’t think the she came into her own because she was suddenly slimmer.

  6. I agree about Elisa being healthy rather than just thin–good call. I liked this book but so much of it felt bizarre to me. Carson’s treatment and disposal of potential romantic plot threads was another thing that struck me as unusual about the storyline. *goes to look at Graceling and Fire comments*

  7. Thank you for linking to my review!
    I really like the way Elisa’s weight loss was handled as well. It’s nice to see someone not obsessing over it.
    I think I’m going to have to read Graceling. I keep hearing such good things about it.

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