The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
The Girl of Fire and Thorns is the story of Elisa, the youngest princess in the country of Orovalle and bearer of the Godstone, a jewel implanted in the navel of one person who is chosen by God every century to do a special service. As both princess and bearer, Elisa lives a life of extravagance, spending her days eating whatever she wants and studying religious texts and books about war. That is until her 16thbirthday, when she is forced to wed Alejandro de Vega, the King of the neighboring country, Joya d’Arena. Their marriage has been arranged to strengthen the alliance between the two countries and to create a larger army to defeat their enemies from Invierne. After the wedding, Elisa leaves her quiet life at Orovalle and begins an exciting and dangerous journey she never could have imagined.
The belief behind the Godstone Elisa bears is that God selects a person to use magic to fight the magic trying to take over the world. The Godstone appears when Elisa is an infant and burns hot or cold whenever she is in a certain kind of dangerous situation. Having the Godstone all her life, Elisa accepts she will eventually have to do something, but she doesn’t know what or how. As her adventure begins, Elisa quickly learns not everyone has the same beliefs about the Godstone and what she is meant to do as bearer.
I found the way the author deals with faith in this story to be very interesting, specifically Elisa’s faith in the Godstone and her responsibilities as bearer. Those who are faithful are frequently filled with doubts about their faith and even question their religion at times. Elisa is portrayed as being devout, yet human. She doesn’t pretend to know exactly what she is supposed to do or be, and she questions those who try to make her do things that don’t seem right. She is a young girl who tries to follow her faith when making difficult decisions and sometimes makes mistakes.
Another thing I found appealing is the realistic depiction of the people and situations in this fantasy world. Elisa doesn’t begin as a perfect heroine of a story. She isn’t athletic and slim like you would expect. She has spent her life in books and has been indulged in many areas of her life. Through the challenges she faces, she becomes a person of action who must make decisions for herself. She learns from her experiences and the people she meets along the way that her actions have consequences affecting others, and life is more than just waiting for things to happen to her.
Even the good and evil in the story are not perfectly good or evil. The main people in Elisa’s life from Orovalle and Joya d’Arena all make both good and bad choices. And while the people of Invierne are clearly the enemy in the story, there is even a slight hint they are more than just evil invaders using magic to destroy everyone and everything in their path.
Then there is the war. War is not pretty and the author doesn’t treat it as such. It involves making tough choices and learning to live with those choices. The lands involved in the war are full of devastation, with refugees who have been injured or disfigured and are facing starvation. Yet these same refugees begin to have hope when they see the bearer of the Godstone before them.
Rae Carson has created an impressive and astounding fantasy world. She has also produced an incredible story about taking responsibility for one’s life and actions, and has introduced a smart and distinctive main character in Elisa. I look forward to seeing Elisa continue to grow into a strong character during her future endeavors.