Review by Casey Wilson.
Released just last week, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson introduces us to Princess Elisa on the day of her wedding to a man she has never met. The wedding is dispatched with in the first few pages, and Carson quickly sends Elisa off with her new husband to a nation on the brink of war. But Elisa is no ordinary girl (What girl is, in YA fantasy?), bearing as she does the “Godstone”. A stone buried in her navel, the Godstone indicates to the world that she has been chosen by God for service. Over the course of the novel, she must grapple with her faith and find the confidence to fight for the lives of those around her.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns is an engrossing novel, one I felt compelled to finish quickly. In an unusual move for a fantasy novel, Carson uses a first-person present narration, keeping us close to Elisa at all times. Although there are a few jarring transitions and leaps in time, it is mostly effective, emphasizing just how overwhelming and immediate the changes in Elisa’s life feel to her. Carson also makes a few surprising (pleasantly so, at least for this reader) moves that establish the stakes of the story; the resolution of a love triangle in the story is particularly bold. Until I did a bit of research for this post, I actually thought the novel was a standalone instead of the first in a trilogy; it stands well on its own, so those of you who hate cliffhangers can rest easy.
I do have one reservation about the novel, and unfortunately it is a significant one. Elisa begins the novel noticeably overweight; for a significant chunk of the book, her obsession with food is one of maybe two defining characteristics she is given. As a part of her character, I mostly appreciated this – it’s a push for much-needed diversity of type in the YA world, even if it felt heavy-handed. The novel makes an explicit connection, however, between the increase in confidence Elisa feels and the amount of weight she loses. Although there are a few supporting characters that Elisa realizes by the end of the novel would still love her even if she regained the weight, I saw no sign to indicate that Elisa would still love herself. Perhaps it isn’t fair of me to place such an expectation on the story – perhaps it was even done intentionally, to add depth and reality to Elisa’s transformation – but I came away from the otherwise excellent The Girl of Fire and Thorns wishing that our heroine had truly learned to define herself outside of her size.
If you’ve read the novel, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Did Elisa’s journey leave you conflicted as well?
Casey is a first-year PhD student. She reads YA novels to procrastinate, but loves that she can call it research.