Rae Carson’s debut novel is a great start to a writing career. It was published in 2011, and she’s got at least 20 books now, so apparently the promise has panned out, but for now The Girl of Fire and Thorns is all I’ve got to go on. And it definitely has me ready to leap onto book two of the Fire and Thorns series, The Crown of Embers. And most of that has to do with the girl herself, Elisa, the second princess of Oravelle and chosen bearer of the Godstone, who has grown up with the unrelenting fear the she will fail to live up to the glorious destiny that she has been singled out for.
There are flaws to this book. I’m not going to pretend that it is a masterpiece. But I do try to cut authors a break on their first book, and the premise shows a lot of promise, even if the delivery didn’t always follow through.
For example, I love that Elisa is fat. I like that she deals with her insecurities by eating, even while she knows that her weight is one of the main causes of her insecurity. It’s a vicious cycle that many people really are caught in, and you hardly ever see it in a character who is the central heroine of a book.
The fact that most of Elisa’s problems go away when she loses weight is kind of problematic. I think the idea was supposed to be that as she got skinnier, Elisa grew more confident and her lack of belief in herself was her central problem all along. However, in execution what really came across was that Elisa’s biggest character flaw was that she was fat and once she lost the weight, everything magically resolved itself.
A lot of readers criticize this book for being overly religious, but I for one was glad to see religion take such a central role in a plot. Atheism is, as far as I know without doing any actual research on the subject, a fairly modern thing. Pretty much every culture around the globe throughout history has developed some sort of religion. It might take the form of monotheism, ancestral spirits, animism, a pantheon of deities, or something else entirely, but there’s almost always a spiritual aspect to a culture. So it’s nice to see a fantasy world so crucially rooted in conflicting spiritual beliefs, even amongst people who are allies.
There was a lot of telling going on in this book, instead of characters being explored through their actions. But I can forgive that in a new novelist, provided her future books show improvement on that front. But the biggest deal breaker for me was the constant focus on the handsome men around Elisa.
The book opens with Elisa’s arranged marriage to Alejandro, the king of a neighboring country who needs an alliance with her father to help him win a war. Alejandro is older, very handsome, and her husband, so it’s no surprise that Elisa swoons over him, even if he does have some pretty major character flaws. But then Elisa gets kidnapped, by a young, also very handsome man, who doesn’t have any major character flaws. It doesn’t take her long to start comparing the two men and deciding which one she likes better. This isn’t a bad story line as far as it goes, but it takes up way too much of the book. There are so many interesting relationships in this book I would love to see developed, but instead we spend entirely too much time getting lost in Humberto’s dark eyes.
Cosmé, for example, deserves to have her own book. She’s an illegitimate daughter who was forced to be a servant to her own half-sister, an incredibly competent ladies’ maid, a terrifyingly fearless spy, an intrepid desert traveler, and probably half a dozen more things I’ve left out. Her developing relationships with Elisa is a strong part of this book, and it could have done with a lot more developing.
Or Ximena, the nurse who used to be a scribe who is actually a guardian capable of taking out threats with a hair pin. More of her backstory, please! Of course, there’s also the issue of how much of her devotion to Elisa is true love (a great deal of it, I believe) and how much is really religious fervor. Let’s explore that instead of teenage love dilemmas, eh?
And we can’t forget little Rosario, even though almost everybody does. The poor little prince is in danger of becoming a spoiled brat because nobody keeps their word to him, whether it’s a promise or a threat. The courageous little guy wants so much to help the cause, but he’s constantly sidelined until Elisa takes him under her wing, painfully familiar with the feeling of being shunted aside.
There’s also Alodia, Elisa’s older sister who is confident and poised and perfectly capable of running a country. How much of her disdain for Elisa is real and how much it is Elisa projecting her own insecure opinions about herself on to other people? Alodia wasn’t a big part of this book, but I’ll be very disappointed if this relationship isn’t explored further in future installations.
As you can see, this book has no shortage of fascinating characters to be explored, including Lord Hector, the ever-loyal royal guard who is, unfortunately, also being developed into a love interest.
Objectively, I’d say this book gets 3 out of 5 stars. It was a fun and engrossing enough read, I think I’d bump it up to 4. But Carson’s going to have to step it up to keep this rating on her future books, being especially vigilant to not let teen romance drama completely eclipse the far more interesting sidelines running through the story.
P.S. Don’t forget to comment on Saturday’s post with your idea for a writing prompt!