Saturday, 31 March 2012
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
This a YA fantasy novel that begins on the wedding day of sixteen year-old Princess Elisa. Being the chosen one, the one every century born with the Godstone in her navel, a lot is expected from her as a conduit for God's will in the world. Yet this stone, a priceless blue jewel, is unique enough to cause a host of problems.
I have to say that the reason I gave this book a five rating is because it's has been a while since I've been unable to put a book down and I've had this need to know what happens next: that insatiable urge to keep reading. It's probably courtesy of it being a YA fantasy that it was as fast-paced as it was, but it's still slower than other YA books thanks to the fantasy elements. The other reason I loved this book so was that at the end, when she confronts the Animages (which isn't a spoiler), I was just buzzing. Had I been a cat, I would have purred uncontrollably since I was experiencing a high like no other: where I just wanted to read as fast as I could and ascertain what happened, yet restricting myself to understand fully what would transpire (and also to extend the feeling).
One of the things that hit me early on as a pleasant surprise was that are heroine was fat. Not average sized, and definitely not thin, but undeniably fat and a lover of all things edible. I mean, I got hungry reading sometimes! But no, I like that books don't shy away from these things, especially in a protagonist. Too often they're the athletic type, or if not they are rarely fat: the general description is someone who couldn't be described as thin, but is healthy and fit. There is nothing wrong with that, but figures show that most people think of themselves as fat and obesity is a problem in the Western World.
I felt the story was a tad clichéd at times: a mix of princess in a new country/city, the chosen one and the less loved sibling. But Elisa's character- her voice, wit and attitude- made everything seem shiny and new and made me love the book so much. It underlined how no one judged her for her weight (mass!), but valued the quality of her mind or personality. Her strength of character. But again, this is a small part. Weight doesn't define who we are, though it is a huge anxiety in our society. As such, it never defined Elisa as a protagonist, as a princess or as the chosen one.
Other characters in the book were fine, but less interesting than Elisa and, on occasion, less fleshed out. It makes sense though in that because Elisa was such a good character, there was a good chance one would feel like this. Cosmé, Alejandro or Alodia all seemed to fall into a set character type for fantasy novels- yet in fairness they had some more exceptional qualities. Personally though, I felt they were mostly plot-orientated. They developed somewhat and were relatively interesting, but they were there to fill a function mostly: and their development wasn't entirely unique or unprecedented.
One thing I didn't think I'd be saying when I started was that I loved the religion element in this book. I'm not religious, and I didn't see why it was important early on: I found it distracting and in some ways unnecessary. But you slowly realise how important it is and, rather than being solely about religious zeal, it becomes apparent how important it is as part of this world; both as a motivation for characters (good and evil) and the impact this has on the world. Part of me says this is merely their interpretation of events and that there needn't be a God, but it doesn't matter. Part of me expects a sequel to have an atheist character who argues exactly this.
The God element is also fantastic in that my favourite bit involved the words Elisa uses whilst...optimising the Godstone. I always think the archaic sound of the Bible or ancient texts sounds powerful in some way: probably because it is, A, unusual to our ears and, B, writers had a certain way (with a certain tempo and use of stresses) to write. It really made that scene for me.
If you like fantasy, it is incredibly easy to recommend this, I think. It doesn't complicated the simple and well written characters with a well-formulated plot means that anyone who doesn't have a vendetta against fantasy will has a good chance of seriously liking this book. I rank this up there with Night Circus, so I hope you can understand my love for it.