Book Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Posted May 2, 2013 by Debby in Book Reviews

Book Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae CarsonThe Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Series: Fire and Thorns #1
Published by Greenwillow Books on September 20th, 2011
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 423
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can’t see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he’s not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.

3 Stars

The Girl of Fire and Thorns surely hits all the marks on the checklist of “YA high fantasy novels”; however, something about it just lacked that spark that would make this a truly memorable novel that has me coming back for more. It never really wow-ed me, which, I guess, I really expected to happen. (Maybe it is once again due to the many people who swore I’d absolutely love this novel.) So my opinion is overall rather mixed.

The plot of the novel is the gem that gets a bit overshadowed by the smaller, more annoying bits. But we’ll get to that. So Elisa is first forced into a marriage with King Alejandro and experiences court life, trying to figure out which role she is best suited to play. Then, she is kidnapped as one of many parties decides they need to use her, being God’s chosen, to save their people. There is a great deal of mystery concerning what her task is, as God’s chosen, and she has a fair bit of struggle with that. The pacing is perfect, and at no point does the novel become boring. There is no info-dumping and no long descriptive passages of traveling as one might expect of a high fantasy. Perhaps the best part of Rae Carson’s storytelling ability is her decision to take risks. Characters die in this book. Characters you grow close to. That really keeps you on your toes and makes the story much more exciting.

The characterizations left me wishing for more. Though Elisa was an intriguing main character – a somewhat spoiled princess harshly confronted with reality – I found it difficult to sympathize with her for some reason (maybe because she was too quick to go back to some of her princess-y ways after escaping the desert, and I hoped she’d be more strong and independent based on her experiences). I must say as well that at first I was intrigued by Rae Carson’s choice to make Elisa, to be blunt, fat. I thought it was an interesting choice that could well work in this world and may, in YA, create some more positive feelings about different body types. But no. After being ridiculed in the castle for her body shape (which, I would argue, doesn’t fit in a high fantasy medieval-like setting – where traditionally the more heavy set people were envied because they had enough food to eat to become so fat) Elisa then travels through the desert under harsh conditions and loses almost all of that extra weight. Umm… seriously, what was the point of this then?

My main issue with the love interests is that, to be honest, Humberto and Hector are identical. Their characters are exactly the same. They regard Elisa in the same way. They have the same kinds of interactions with her. It’s all too obvious. Maybe I would not have thought this if I didn’t have *some* clue as to how the romance goes in The Crown of Embers, but I still think it’s really sad. However, aside from an “I love you” that was maybe a bit too quick, the romance was handled rather nicely and didn’t take dominance over the rest of the story. And it’s not a love triangle… really. If that’s what you’re worried about. So there’s something to be said for that.

The omnipresence of religion started off as interesting, gradually became lightly irritating, and then, ultimately, rather annoying. I’m not a religious person, and to have to read statements like, “God will show me the way” or “have faith, that’s all you need” or “just pray, just keep praying” all throughout 300 pages is exhausting (not to mention how it sounds like Elisa and her maid Ximena seriously do nothing else with their lives other than read the Scriptura Sancta… seriously). Now I know, this is a fantasy and a vastly different world than our own, where the presence of magic almost inherently asks for a religion or god. I just felt it was overdone to the point where I almost dreaded continuing. The point is, the existence of this God is poorly developed and not yet well integrated in the world building. (The world building, overall, to me, was lackluster and rather average.) But I think that, this time, is due to the fact this is a series. Which kind of makes me sigh.

Summing Up:

Ultimately, while this book screams “AVERAGE” to me, I think the series holds a lot of potential. I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt and continue anyway. Elisa had a lot of character growth to get through in this novel, and I think I’ll like how the events of the first book shaped her for the rest of the series. The conclusion definitely gave me hope that I will like The Crown of Embers better.

In Three Words:

Recommended To:

Fans of classic high fantasies who aren’t afraid of a few clichés, or people who want to try the genre for the first time.

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10 responses to “Book Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

  1. dKatrina

    I've been thinking of reading this one for a while. But I think I'll put it off for a little bit longer. I don't know if the plot would be enough to keep me going because characterization is a BIG THING for me. I follow a religion but I would be pretty annoyed at having to read statements like that throughout the whole novel. Thanks for the honest review, Debby.
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  2. Lyn

    This one was a hard one to decide upon. I took the religion as her deconstructing what she always believed was faith. I think Carson left it up to the reader to decide, but I was highly annoyed at first.

    The secondary characters did make the book, that much is true!

  3. I don't know, I didn't really get that feeling with the religious element. Just at the very end, Elisa recognizes that it's her that does things, really without help from God, but it's not a truly "epiphany"-like moment and I don't think it really shook up her faith that much. I might be wrong though – maybe that's better developed in the sequel.

    Yeah, I think I ultimately enjoyed Rosario and Cosmé a lot more than Elisa. I hate it when I don't feel connected to the main character though. I really have to push to keep reading in that case.
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  4. I had big issues with the religions as well. It felt too present, too forced, AND most of it was taken WORD FOR WORD from the Christian Bible. I don't know how everyone else feels about that, but I call that plagiarism, since Carson pretends she "invented" this mythology but, actually, she just borrowed from Judeo-Christian scripture. SO ANNOYING.

    Hah. I did end up really liking Hector in the sequel, though I agree that he and Humberto were really similar when put side by side.
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  5. Yeah I don't know about the connection to Christianity, but I can imagine that would be very irritating as well. For me it was just the huge presence in the book. Ugh.

    Oh good, I'm not alone then. I think, since Hector's not REALLY a big love interest in this one, no one else really notices, but since I knew… *sigh* That's what I get for starting a series late.
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  6. Judith

    I like the sound of this book, but the things you pointed out made me wonder if I'd like it, especially the romance part. Though I am glad that there's no love triangle (thank goodness!) I don't like it when "I love you"s come too soon. It can ruin a book for me, really. It's also too bad that the world wasn't better developed. In a fantasy novel, the world makes about 50% of the story for me. Maybe even 60. (This is why I LOVED Shadow and Bone!) Oh well, I'll probably give this a try someday.