Monday, August 15, 2011

Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns

(Fire and Thorns #1)
Rae Carson
Young Adult Fantasy
422 pages
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


  1. Interesting. I can see why you felt the need to split the rating. Part 1 sounds a bit confusing. But I tend to really love stories where the main character makes such a drastic change and improvement in their personalities. It's so lovely to watch them grow! I think I'll probably really love this one!

  2. great review, hun. I had started it and then kinda put it down b/c I couldn't read anymore. I was confused and I don't know had so many problems and I guess I know why, the dreaded part 1. I remember some other readers complaing how part was was not that great but the rest is amazing. I'll pick up the book again and read further to see if I can get into as much as you guys did during that part 2&3.

  3. I like how you did the split ratings. It definitely makes me want to pick it up knowing that it gets better as you go along. Great review Jenny :)

  4. This sounds like a strange but entertaining read. It is weird that the first part isn't as strong as the others. You figure that would be the best part to entice readers. Great review, I might pick this book up.

  5. I really have a hard time with slow starting books, but it sounds as if this one comes through. Great review!

  6. Aylee - Part 1 was difficult for me to get into, but as soon as she got kidnapped things picked up for me and I got involved:) If you can make it through all the confusion of those first 100 pages, it turns into a really interesting read:)

    Mariya - Yeah, I struggled a bit in part 1, but I'm glad I stuck with it because it ended much better than it started:)

    Nic - Thanks! I couldn't give just one rating or split the difference because the parts felt so different to me.

    Najela - I think there was just so much going on in part one and things weren't clear that it made it hard to settle in and enjoy the story, but then things clear up a little and Elisa became someone far more interesting:)

    Jan - Stick with it, I loved the second 2 parts!

  7. First off, great review. I really did get a feel for the book from it and I can totally understand what you're talking about. I like the idea that she seriously changes over the course of the book and I look forward to reading it.

  8. As a ruthless DNF-er, I'm so glad I read your review. It sounds like it would have been a real shame if I let the mediocre beginning stop me from reading the 4 star middle and end. Thank you!

  9. Sounds like the start of this one is tough going. I'm not sure that I'd make it through! Now though, if I do read it, I'll keep your review in mind and remember there is light at the end of the tunnel! :)

  10. Always love reading your thoughts! I am going to get my hands on this one for sure!

  11. Kris - Thank you! I liked how she progressed and left some of the self-esteem issues behind and came into her own:)

    Small - Yes, stick with it through part one! I though it vastly improved once she got take into the desert:)

    Leanna - There's just a lot to deal with in the beginning, everything's a bit of a jumble and you're not really sure what's happening, but then she finds a purpose we can get behind and things are better from there:)

    Natalie - Thank you! Hope you enjoy it:)

  12. Yes we had very similar reactions.....

    Part one was hard to get into...but the midway to end flew by. I still felt unconnected to the MC though even when I finished, and the way she described herself, I was thinking very large girl...

    Love the Split ratings....genius...!!

  13. Loved the review Jenny! I read this book on my way to the Laredo Book Festival and love it!

  14. Ha, I've played that spinning game. :P
    I'm glad that despite the lack of world-building in the first part, the latter parts of the book are really worth reading. I can't wait to dive into this one--I love fantasy! :)

  15. Haha, that spinning game sure sounds fun!
    Actually, my head is what ends up spinning...
    I've got this one waiting for me on my bookshelf, thanks for the review, Jenny :)

  16. Ok so I kind of want to read this now since I just finished another YA fantasy title that I loved. Even though the beginning might not be the best the story still soungds really good to me.

  17. You know when I read Acheron's book I felt the same way (different series I know). Sometimes one part is wildly different than the other 2 parts!

  18. It definitely did get better as it went on... I found it interesting how things kept happening that I didn't expect. Usually books are so predictable (even really good ones), so it was cool to see this one go in all kinds of different directions.

  19. Oh how interesting! I think it is brilly to separate the book into parts for a rating. Sometimes is just works that way. Sounds like an interesting book and after things are established really takes off. I think I need to add this one to the astoundingly long wishlist! :)

  20. Tina - I wasn't super connected to her either, but at least by parts 2 & 3 I could get behind her and what she was trying to do:)

    Savy - Thanks! Glad to know you enjoyed it too:)

    Lauren - I have too, I always veer off to the side and never quite make it to the finish line:) If you like fantasy, I think you'll enjoy this one!

    Hafsah - It is fun! Thought it's infinitely more fun to watch:) Looking forward to your thoughts on this one!

    Jenny - It's definitely worth a read, I loved the final two thirds of it:)

    Felicia - YES! His book was like that for me as well. I will never EVER read that first part again. Ever. *dies*

    Ashley - I agree, I wasn't able to see where things were going with this one, and I definitely didn't see some of the deaths coming which made it a painful surprise.

    Juju - Hope you do!

    Melissa - Thank you, I just couldn't see another way to rate this one since I had such different reactions to it:)

  21. This is one of the books I couldn't finish and it doesn't happen often, I normally always finish. Here, I just had a problem with the biblical references and innuendos - It was just too much for me and once I started to see the references I couldn't go back enjoying the book anymore.

    Maybe I have to go back and finish it... I liked that you split the review into two parts and I might go back and read the end..

    There were just a few things that truly made me angry, but this doesn't belong here. As usual, you wrote a phenomenal review my friend!

  22. So the beginning is not as good, hm, well that should not be a problem if it just gets better :) And I do like fantasy

  23. Why do I suddenly feel like playing a game of pin the tale on Jenny?

    Doesn't sound like this one would be for me, I'm not much for fantasy, but I'm glad to know the latter parts of the story worked better for you.

    You don't have many DNF, do you?

  24. That sucks that the beginning is confusing and kind of annoying. I am glad though that it picks up in parts 2 and 3. =) I love how you describe Elisa after her transformation. She seems like someone whose perspective I would enjoy reading from. =)

  25. Great review. I had no idea it was broken up into parts. This book is getting a lot of buzz, so I'll be sure to stick with it if I pick up a copy since Part II and III is better. I love a heroine that is a fighter!

  26. Okay, it cracked me up that she has a blue gem in her navel!

  27. I've heard a lot about this book but I'm not sure it's for me.
    I don't think I would be patient enough to get through part one, :P

    Thanks for your thorough review :) it helped me a lot!! :D

  28. Wow, this one sounds really interesting, Jenny! The main character definitely has me intrigued and I'm glad that she morphs from her passive self to a much stronger person. I'm really looking forward to reading it!

  29. I love how you set up this review. It dampens my expectations for the beginning but still convinces me that it's worth reading. Good b/c I have it from Netgalley.

  30. I'm glad that you rated the sections separately. It gives me a better gauge when going into this book! Fabulous thoughts - it's interesting to see such a deviation :)

  31. I have this book in my TBR pile. I'm so glad I read your review or I might not have made it to the end!

  32. I have this one in my TBR pile so thanks for letting me know that I might struggle with the first part but that it gets progressively better.

    The game where you spin in circles and then try to run in a straight line sounds fun. I've always been good at not getting dizzy so I might just win :)

  33. I just couldn't figure out what this one was about. You gave such a thorough and honest review. Thanks for that. One question- how much does religion play into it? I saw what Danny said in her comment and I'm just wondering if you found it religious. I'm sure you would have said so. But her comment gave me pause as she never DNF's a book.


  34. Jenny, you're such a great reviewer! I love the comparison to the spinning game :p I guess the slow start is made up for by a good ending, and sometimes if the ending rocks I'll fall in love with the book. Thanks so much for the review, I've been wanting to read this for a while now :)

  35. Requested a whole lot of Netgalleys from Harper. Fire & Thorns was one of them. i'm SO anxious to read it. Good to know that it gradually get better!

  36. That's great that the story gets stronger as it goes on, despite a slow start. Elisa's growth sounds wonderful too...Great review :D

  37. I'm sooo glad I read this. I read the first part and had to stop to go back to work. I never picked it back up. Knowing the rest of the book picks up makes me want to start it again tonight.