Monday, October 15, 2012

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

I read The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson last fall, but didn't take the time to write a review of it then, even though it was one of my favorite reads of the year. I recently reread it in preparation for reading its sequel, and I loved it as much the second time as I did the first.

Princess Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza of Orovalle is not one of the sword-wielding, butt-kicking heroines that one encounters in some fantasy novels. She's not known for her bravery or her skill with a blade. She's known for her scholarship, her fondness for pastries, and her skill at embroidery. She's overweight and (mostly) content to be so. The only other unique thing about Elisa is that she bears the Godstone in her bellybutton -- one person in a century is given this mysterious gift, marked as someone who will do a great act of service.

Elisa has always know that, as the younger princess, she will make a politically advantageous marriage. When she is betrothed to Alejandro de Vega, king of Joya d'Arena, she prays that her husband will be old and ugly, that he will not mind that he is marrying her and not her lovely older sister. Instead, she finds Alejandro to be handsome, charming . . . and weak. All is not well in Joya d'Arena -- criminals and revolutionaries lurk in the jungle, an invading army menaces the territories to the east, and the royal court is riddled with intrigue and political backstabbing. Then, something happens that Elisa never expected, and she is thrown into a situation that changes her inside and out. When faced with the biggest challenges life has ever thrown at her, Elisa finds hidden reserves of strength and courage.

I love so many things about this book. Elisa's character development is pitch-perfect, and she's believable and relatable all the way through. The secondary characters are well-drawn, the setting is fully described (though I wish the book included a map), and Carson does not shy away from hard decisions about the lives and deaths of really likable characters. I also like the way religion is handled in the book, and how central it is to Elisa's life. I strongly recommend this book to all fantasy fans, and I know it's one I will return to often.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

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