The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns #1)The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an absorbing fantasy that really shows off its excellent world-building. It’s the kind of story where the landscape, buildings, culture, food, clothing, language, religious traditions, even the weather all come together to create a place that the reader feels should actually exist someplace. Add onto that some excellent plotting and pacing, and things are looking good.

Carson gives you a familiar enough plot – a girl marked from infancy as someone special, but who lacks the confidence and determination to fulfill that promise until circumstances force her to grow up and come into her own. But there enough unpredictable plot elements and enough flawed and complex characters to keep you on your toes. The romantic subplots, in particular, were pleasantly outside of the usual pattern for fantasy.

Another strength of the book is that it treats Elisa’s spiritual life in a complex and believable way. The religion of the book is its own thing, although parallels can of course be made between it and real religions. It adds texture to the world of the story, in the way characters are and are not observant of it, as well as the role it plays in Elisa’s growth and ability to become a stronger person.

As other reviewers have pointed out, it is a little problematic that Elisa doesn’t begin the bulk of her character transformation (from intelligent but passive) until after she begins her physical transformation (from overweight and lazy to more active, but never skinny). I did see some character development before the events-beyond-her-control that lead to her weight loss – she’s begun conversations with the priest, she begins to befriend her stepson and tries to make inroads with her husband and his council. So it’s not as if she does nothing until she’s skinnier – but the majority of her personality development comes later in the book. So I’m inbetween on this one – I found her a compelling character because of her flaws, although I still think the main strength of the book is in world-building and plotting.

I’d recommend this for middle-schoolers and up – especially fans of Robin McKinley, Kristin Cashore, Tamora Pierce and the like. Also, although this is the first in a series, apparantly, and there are still questions to be answered, the main plot points are resolved by the end of the book so you aren’t left hanging. I’d read more books in this series, especially to see what other world-building details are added.

Source: my public library

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