The first of these Friday Reviews is:
THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS
By Rae Carson
I picked this book up on the advice of the Land of Lost Books over twitter, after winning a $10 amazon gift card in a comment drawing. I didn't know what kind of book to get, so I asked them to recommend me one, and this was it. I'm not sure whether they are just hardcore YA fantasy fans or if they assumed I was a teenage girl from my twitter personality, but all of their recommendations were YA. In any order, I know when to listen to good advice and so I picked GOFT out of all of them. Mostly because it had Fire and Thorns in the name.
The book follows the tale of Princess Elisa, from the Spanish themed country of Orovalle. She's sixteen second to the throne, and has no interests in ruling. And she's about to get married on a sudden occasion (Spoiler: it happens in chapter one) to a total stranger, a Prince Alejandro. Oh, did I mention she's fat, and likes to ease her low self-worth by eating? I don't know Rae Carson, but I assume that like me, she shares this quality, because every time Elisa goes to eat something in this book, it's exactly when I would have, too.
There's also this little fact that she's the mystical Bearer of the Godstone, a literal gem that is inserted into the chest of a person every so often throughout history (it's wasn't quite clear to me if it was every time one died another one came about, I don't think I'm supposed to know yet) and they all have some great duty that needs to be performed. But because of her culture's weird religious beliefs, she's ignorant of every fact but those, and has been taught to hide this fact.
If all this feels like spoilers, it's not. There's a lot to the world of this book, and GOFT really only scratches the surface. The whole world has a very Spanish feel to it, and mean Spain, the country and not just every latin nation, though I certainly felt there were similarities. It's medieval, with fairly standard medieval trappings, including a monotheistic religion whose sprawling factions all interpret the same holy book differently. Though if I lived in a world where a beam of light from the sky implanted a gem into the navel of a seemingly random babe every hundred years or so, I would probably believe in that One God, too.
The Godstone also responds to Elisa's prayers, glowing warm when she prays for good things and other people and also sometimes kind of at random, at least to her (and my) knowledge. And cold when enemies are nearby!
With regards to God and the Godstone in the book, I was most reminded of Orson Scott Card's Homecoming Saga's millions-years-later Russian space colony atmosphere, where their God is a misunderstood relic of humanity's past. But that... trope if it is one, is particularly dear to me, so I may just be reading too much into it. Still, there are a lot of references to an "original world" and a God that mystically transported them from that dying world to this incredibly earthlike but not explicitly so world. Though unlike OSC's books, there is explicit magic in this world, so it really could just be that their religious story is 100% accurate.
This is the sort of thing I live for in books. This background action that takes place long before the events of book itself. When your world has a real, tangible past and a real feeling of culture, it makes the story pop. Now, someone who lives in Spain might find some of the Spanish trappings mundane, but for me it was a refreshing change of pace from English culture. Even when you're not doing fantasy, this sort of background is important. Providing a real, rich setting will move your action for you, so you can make it that much better.
There are of course romances in the book, (as she does get married, but that's hardly the start) and of course it is YA, so none of them really get anywhere - though they may in later books. I found them adorably frustrating. I would have preferred a little more directness, but I'm not a sixteen year old girl, and for YA, I approve of all the decisions Rae Carson made, as well as the ones Elisa made. Well, maybe not not sleeping with Humberto. He was my favourite.
Elisa is a smart girl, and the story reflects that. I liked her, and watching her realize her own capabilities was uplifting. The story went dark in the places I expected it to, but not in the ways I expected it to and while the "accidentally acquired all seven dragonballs" style final battle didn't pack quite the punch I was expecting, I am a fight scene nerd, and Elisa is not really a fight scene character. Though when they occur - and they do - she doesn't step from the challenge. It's just not really her thing.
My only real complaint with this book is the same I had with Tolkien's LOTR. The world is excellent and rich (LOTR richest, obvi) and the story is told well and evocatively, but the major action felt a little short. There was a time where she was captured that I feel could have gone on longer, and given us a little more background, but this is a series and it may just be that Carson doesn't want to tell us that much yet about the Godstone and Elisa's real destiny.
In sum, I recommend this book to everyone. Elisa's starting temperment is one common to many, not just girls, and her journey of self discovery can be yours as well, if you haven't already reached a higher level of karmic self-awareness. It's a quick and easy read that has some lovable characters and great food.
ONE WORD REVIEW: APPETIZING
Thanks for reading!