Friday, 6 April 2012

Book Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Title: The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Author: Rae Carson
Year Published: 2011
Genre: YA, Fantasy

The title promises fantasy smothered in girliness, which was exactly what I was after and which was exactly what the book provided. If that puts you off, fear not, for The Girl of Fire and Thorns is not some sparkly romance but a solid fantasy adventure with lovely writing. Yes, there is romance, but it's not heavy-handed and it serves to enhance the story – that is, the romance is an enhancement to the plot but not the plot itself.

Our heroine, Elisa, is a fat princess born with a magical stone in her navel. On her sixteenth birthday she marries the handsome king of a desert land. Pulled into this other world, she becomes embroiled in court politics and the war that plagues Joya d'Arena. Further problems arise when revolutionaries get involved, dissatisfied with the way the war is being handled. Throughout all of this, a key issue for Elisa is what it means to be bearer of the Godstone.

Elisa herself is a likeable protagonist. She's the “imperfect” princess, easy for a reader to identify with and root for. Her narration has a simple yet plush quality which makes the book a breeze to read – the detailed descriptions of food being a particular indulgence. Carson has written in a rich culture and religion, making it easy to immerse yourself in Elisa's world.

The plot rollicks along at a good pace, each chapter being written in a way that entices you to read the next. It's not ground-breaking stuff, but it is interesting and I was never sure what was going to happen next. The slower moments add a lot of charm; things like Elisa's visit to the monastery are a gentle contrast to the more plot-heavy parts and contribute to the pleasant feeling of “girliness” of the book. While the plot is ultimately resolved in a satisfactory manner and the book does work as a standalone, certain loose ends make me suspect that it was written with a sequel in the offing. A quick search just now has confirmed my suspicions –
The Crown of Embers is due out in September this year.

There were a few aspects of the book that I didn't like. Some characters felt shoehorned into particular stereotypes, despite us not knowing enough to make that decision for ourselves. Another thing was that the romance occasionally didn't transition well with the plot in general. That being said, I never did know where the potential love triangle stuff was going to go and it was done in a fairly believable manner. If you think this is indifferent of me, note that Elisa is a teenage girl and that this is a novel for teens while I am a shrivelled old prune with a heart of stone.

I feel that my review cannot be complete without a mention of the book's cover. While nice to look at, it bugs me that the girl in the picture is so white. Elisa is described as “dark” more than once, and even if the choice to make her so pale is for graphic design reasons (to contrast white against blue), the result carries unfortunate implications. The UK cover features a darker girl and I prefer it on principle alone. Your mileage may vary on whether this is even an issue.

Overall I found this to be a very enjoyable read. Fans of Robin McKinley and Tamora Pierce would find much to enjoy in Carson's debut. My criticisms, as you can tell, are really nitpicks based on subjective taste. Recommended for someone in the mood for a girlish fantasy adventure with a decent plot.

Alex's Rating: 4/5

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