Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

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.

Also reviewed by:

Review: Shhh! by Valeri Gorbachev


Shhh! by Valeri Gorbachev

When his baby brother is sleeping, the older brother is very quiet.  He walks on his tippy-toes and doesn’t make any noise.  Of course, this involves getting even the toys to be quiet.  So he has to tell the clown to stop laughing, the knights to stop battling, the tiger to stop growling, the pilot to stop flying, the train to stop rolling, and the pirates to stop firing their cannons.  Happily, when his baby brother wakes up, he can run around, play with his toys, and make plenty of noise.  Until… baby goes to sleep again.

There is no resentment in this book from the older sibling to his baby brother.  Instead the book embraces the differences between awake and nap time in a playful way.  The older brother sees being kind to his little brother as a way to demonstrate how much he loves him.  While parents are present in the book, this is much more about the self-control of a child and his own willingness to help by being quiet.  There are no lectures from parents or even reminders to be quiet.

Gorbachev’s art is colorful and fine-lined.  He sets a playful tone in the book that works well.  When readers are first shown the toys that have to be quiet, they are presented as if they are fully alive and life-sized.  Once the baby is awake, they are shown in their true forms, as toys. 

A positive book about being an older sibling and having to be quiet.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Philomel Books.

Also reviewed by A Picture Book a Day.