girl of fire and thorns

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

This one has been on my to-read list for awhile, after several blogging pals reviewed it very positively.  Then it was named a nominee for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and I knew I had to get my hands on it. 

Elisa is a princess, but a rather reluctant one.  Her older sister is the one with the beauty and poise, and luckily also the one destined to be queen.  But Elisa has a destiny of her own, she is the bearer of the Godstone in her navel, a gem that appeared during her naming ceremony as an infant.  She is destined to be a hero, but she can’t see past her own weight and laziness to even glimpse a future where that would be possible.  On Elisa’s sixteenth birthday, she is given in marriage to the king of a nation at war.  Moving away from her family, Elisa discovers that her new husband is going to keep their marriage secret.  Elisa is caught up in the politics and cunning of the kingdom, something she has always avoided.  Now she has to figure out what her future holds.  One thing is sure, it will be a different destiny than she ever expected!

Carson’s debut novel is a stunner.  She writes with a confidence and skill, weaving together what could have been jarring combinations into a harmonious tale.  This is a story that reads as a medieval fantasy, but is set in a desert nation with camels and dunes.  It is a fantasy that is steeped in religion, something you rarely see in fantasy for teens. 

Elisa is a marvel of a character.  She is fat, something unexpected in a princess.  She is lazy, but then displays a quick mind, clever responses, and a knowledge of war and tactics.  She is dark skinned, something that she alone dwells on as it contrasts with her sister.  Yet, and this is important, the men around her are attracted to her despite her size.  Just as with most of the book, the answers are not simple.  It’s a complex world that Carson has built here.

And the world building is exceptional.  She has created a world that is similar enough to our own, but filled with magic.  It is also home to a religion that is fully realized and complicated.  It even has disparate sects that disagree. 

This book was subject to some cover controversy with an original cover that featured a very light-skinned and thin girl.  While the new cover avoids the color of skin entirely, I would have appreciated a cover that embraces a protagonist of color and of size.

Highly recommended, this book deserves its spot in the William Morris Award nominees.  It is one of the best written and most intriguing fantasies for teens this year.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

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