The first test of her courage is her marriage: her parents have arranged for her to marry the king of Joya D’Arena, a neighboring kingdom, and Elisa is petrified that he won’t like her. Then the wedding party is attacked on the journey to her new home, and after that…well, I can’t say. There’s plenty of action and lots of juicy material for a hero journey, which is essentially what Elisa is on. Through the events of the story, Elisa learns how to be self-reliant, develops some respect for herself and her abilities, and learns just what her particular act of service may be.
I’ve seen a lot of raves for The Girl of Fire and Thorns across the Internet. I actually read it many months ago before there were any reviews for it on Goodreads, so I didn’t go into it with any expectations. I’m sorry to say that I was underwhelmed. The first third of the book was a slog – it didn’t grip me and I found the pace tedious. The second and third parts picked up nicely, but I never felt that “wow” factor that so many other readers did.
I never felt pulled into the world. Those who have read my reviews of other fantasies know I love me some good world-building. Reflecting back on the book a few months after reading it, I had to look up what the three main countries were and exactly why they were fighting and how they were different from each other. I compare this to Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, where many months after I first read it, I was able to recall the names of countries and their rulers and cultures and even their precise location in the world.
There were certainly elements of the story that I did like: the inclusion of an overweight protagonist (although she slims down during the story), the Spanish-flavored elements of the story reflected in people’s names and appearances, the mythology surrounding the Godstone, and Elisa’s surprising relationship with the king.
I’m torn on the religion in Elisa’s world. It seems similar to Catholicism (I am not Catholic, so take that with a grain of salt), but there are enough differences (the Godstone) for it be jarring. Most fantasy novels that make religion a central element of the story do so with a Pagan or Earth-centered religion, or they do it with a completely made-up religion that doesn’t bear quite so much resemblance to one so many real-life people adhere to. I can’t decide if I like what Carson has done with the religion here or not, but it certainly makes the book different from the usual fantasy fare.
I’ve seen this book compared to those by Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley. It’s got a lot of the same fantasy elements – magic and war and kingdoms (and it’s light on elves and other magical non-humans) – but Pierce’s and McKinley’s writing and characterization are so much better, it almost hurts my heart to see the comparison. But, you know, your mileage may vary.