THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS
(Fire and Thorns #1)
Young Adult Fantasy
Received from publisher for review
It's Elisa's sixteenth birthday. It's also her wedding day. Her father has arranged her marriage to King Alejandro as part of a political alliance in preparation for the upcoming war with the Invierne. Not many outside those closest to her know that she is also the bearer of the Godstone, a sparkling blue gem in her navel that shows everyone God has chosen her for a special Service. Only one in every century is chosen.
Elisa doesn't feel like a chosen one. She's not as beautiful or charming as her older sister, and as soon as she reaches her new husband's kingdom, he asks that she lie to those in the court and keep their marriage a secret. She learns why when she sees his stunning mistress. Alone and unsure, Elisa wonders what's in store for her.
Not long after her arrival, Elisa wakes to find a cloth over her face, coming to hours later and miles away from the palace. Taken by a group of young men and women her age, they lead her to an outpost in the desert and show her that the war her husband is preparing for has actually already begun. With them, Elisa finds a new purpose and learns some of the history of the Godstone, most notably that the bearers almost always die young. With war raging, she has little doubt she will soon join them in demise, but hopes she can fulfill her Service before she goes.
Reading part one of The Girl of Fire and Thorns (there are three sections) is a bit like playing that game where you (along with a group of other gluttons for punishment) spin in circles as fast as possible and then attempt to run in a straight line quicker than those around you while onlookers watch in amusement as everyone wobbles about extraordinarily disoriented. In the same vein, we as readers are dropped into Elisa's story, informed quickly she bears something called a Godstone and is being pawned off to a marriage of convenience and politics, but we are given so little history as to how we've reached this point. We are told of an impending war with a group of people called the Invierne, yet we know nothing about them or why they are at odds with Elisa's new husband, and while we are aware Elisa has been chosen for the Godstone we are given no background information regarding it either. Thus, we find ourselves floundering a bit in a world with already established political relationships we don't fully comprehend, grasping for something concrete to steady us as we're tugged along on Elisa's journey.
Once we reach part two, it's as though a switch gets flipped and we suddenly find ourselves intrigued and invested as our feet, previously dragging on this adventure, move faster and faster until we're flat out sprinting to get to the end in order to find out what happens. This change is due in most part to Elisa herself, starting out in the beginning a girl who constantly fixates on her weight and the fact that she's not as pretty or skinny as those around her, and who seems content with her ignorance of the Service she is to perform as a bearer. When she's kidnapped about 150 pages in however, Elisa sheds the skin (literally and figuratively) of the slightly chubby princess with a backbone that bends to the will of others as needed, and gradually transforms into a young woman of drive and determination–that previous spinal bend slowly straightening and solidifying into steel. She grows from a shy follower to a bold leader, leaving her melancholic musings on physical appearance behind and focusing on learning as much as she can about who she is as a bearer and how she can help those who so clearly need her.
With Elisa's progress from a girl comprised of transparent vapors whom our fingers slip right through as we try to connect to her to a tangible intellectual powerhouse no longer afraid to speak her mind, we find ourselves utterly captivated. The questions regarding the history of the war between the Invierne and the rest of the territories become irrelevant as the relationships between Elisa and those who look up to her strengthen and grow in emotional complexity, drawing our attention away from what we don't know and dazzling us with what's currently taking place on the pages. Ms. Carson also makes it abundantly clear that no character is safe in this world of fantasy she's created, fraying the strands of our newly developed connections and showing us just how involved we've become by delivering some well-placed blows to the heart.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns ends far stronger than it starts, progressing into a truly entertaining tale that leaves us craving more. There is still a lot of history missing by the end of these 400 plus pages, but as it is the first in a series, presumably we'll learn a bit more as we continue forth. Elisa is a remarkable heroine once the kidnapping sparks a fire in her, proving to both her and us just how much of a fighter she truly is, and I for one cannot wait to see how she will continue to mature in the next couple books.
Because I had such drastically different reactions to part one versus parts two and three, I'm splitting my rating:
Part 1: 3/5
Parts 2&3: 4/5