Monday, January 2, 2012

Book Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Series: Fire and Thorns #1
Release Date: September 20, 2011
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Pages: 423
Received: ARC from publisher, via Netgalley
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.

Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can’t see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he’s not the only one who needs her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.


I <3 Elisa

Everyone seems to talk about is Elisa's weight. And then her weight loss. But Elisa is far more than how much she weighs.

Elisa starts out as a very depressed girl. She isn't depressed because she's fat. She's fat because she's depressed. Big difference. She felt powerless in her position as second daughter and I think she felt crushed under the expectations and preordained future set out for her by the godstone.

While normally I would be all unsympathetic and "Get those issues AWAY FROM ME!" I surprised myself by loving Elisa. Her sadness was so palatable and I felt sorry for her, but more than that, I actually liked and admired her.

Whaaat?? I know. I know. Most reviewers have been totally turned off by Fat Elisa, but I saw many redeeming qualities in her. She was smart and applied her intelligence to learning about military tactics, people, politics, and the history of her faith.

I loved seeing her put these skills into action. In the beginning Elisa's keen insight was quickly shot down, but as she gained confidence in herself, she was able to stand by her opinions in the face of opposition. I was SO proud of her.

Part 1 versus Part 2

Part one is slower and more focused on the day-to-day events of Elisa's life in court. And her life isn't all that interesting. She's married to a man who has only married her for political purposes and has very little interest in spending time with her.

You'd think I'd have been bored stiff with this part of the plot, right? But I wasn't. I loved the small triumphs Elisa scored in part one and the subtle alliances she was forging based on the strength of her personality.

There is also a character in this part named Hector who strongly reminded me of London from Cayla Kluver's Legacy. Sadly, just like London, Hector leaves the story early on and only reappears toward the end. But I see potential there!

Part two is significantly more fast-paced and action-oriented. It was exciting with battles, struggles, strategies, and pretty decent antagonists. If you're bored with part one, try to stick it out until part two before DNF-ing. (Though I thought the character development was much better in part one and took a hit in part two.)

I don't like things in belly buttons

I was kinda icked out by the idea of a stone magically appearing in Elisa's belly button, especially since it's somehow fused to her skin (and there's a vomit-inducing scene that makes this clear).

Elugghh ok, no more thinking about that.

Gross-factor aside, I loved the world building Rae Carson developed. Elisa narrates The Girl of Fire and Thorns, so the world is presented from her perspective. This was an interesting way to establish the world and religion because Elisa has been raised with an extremely censored and narrow understanding of the world that slowly changes as the book progresses.

This easily could have made her an obnoxious character to read, but Elisa is an intelligent girl and so she quickly absorbs and considers the new information she uncovers like the scholar she is. I liked seeing the history unfold this way--first establishing the world, and then turning it on its head.

Elisa's drive to seek out and understand the history and purpose of the godstone was mirrored by my own interest to delve into this facet of the story.

Wait, is this a praying book?

Yes, and no. The religion of the world does play a significant role in the story and things like prayer and god's plan do get a lot of page time. And though the religion is entirely fictional, I'm sure allusions can be drawn to real religions. 

But that's not my thing. I don't want to draw those connections (been there, done that, wrote the paper). I just want to be entertained now. On that, The Girl of Fire and Thorns delivers. Sure it's a religion, but it can be easily read as fantasy world building and the faith, culture, and history of those fantasy peoples.  

Love is NOT in the air

There are two love interests in The Girl of Fire and Thorns, but this is not a love triangle. The first potential suitor is Elisa's husband, and he's pretty much a jerk.

The second potential love interest might appeal to teens, but to me (very much not a teen anymore) he was very, very young. He was sweet, but I'd have to give him the, "I like you like a younger brother" line. His personality also wasn't developed enough to make me have any strong feelings about him. Disappointing, huh?

I'm pretty confident that book two will introduce a new romantic interest, thankfully. I'm crossing my fingers that Hector will be the one.

Bottom line

I didn't fall head over heels in love with The Girl of Fire and Thorns, but I did zip right through it (it's over 400 pages, but it felt much shorter). The plot could have been a little tighter and while some of the deaths devastated me, some I really couldn't have cared less about (and I should have).

I have no doubt that I will be continuing on with Elisa's story. She's hooked me, but even if she hadn't, her world and the opportunity to learn more about its faith and history would be enough to keep me interested in the sequel.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns ends well enough as a standalone, but it is clear there is more to come. There are many more secrets still left to uncover about the godstone, and while the battle is over, the war still looms.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about The Girl of Fire and Thorns that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

How do you feel about religions in fantasy books? Does it make it better for you if the religion is fictional, or do you still see this as too preachy? 

For those who have read the book already, did you cry in THE scene? What are your thoughts on Elisa's transformation? Did you prefer part 1 or part 2? And, most importantly, do you think I'm going to get to see some kissing action with Hector??

Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 

Click on the cover to go to Goodreads.


  1. Haha, haven't read this one but I feel like I would enjoy it. I've been looking to read a few fantasies and this one seems pretty promising!

  2. That is a wonderful Review! Even though I admit, I didn't like this book at all. I didn't even finished this one. Maybe I should have since all people keep saying the last part is good.
    But. I had a big problem with the religion aspect in the story, it was so heavy and I felt patronized by it. Anyways, I loved your review :) Happy New Year btw!

  3. I definitely preferred Part II when Elisa started really liking herself and doing stuff but there were good parts in Part I-I am a sucker for a girl who loves learning.

  4. I just added this one to my wishlist a few hours ago, so when I saw your review, I had to read it! For some reason, I guess I didn't really grasp what this book was about. I knew it was fantasy and that a lot of bloggers were recommending it, but I completely missed everything else (like the "fat" issue that you mentioned). Anyways, I'm glad you liked it!

  5. Very insightful review, thanks for sharing! I've got this in my TBR pile and I'm really looking forward to starting with it. I'm glad you cleared up the religion aspect, because as long as I know up front it doesn't bother me as much :0)

  6. Awesome review! I still have this one sitting on my TBR pile and I've heard it was really good. It did seem really interesting, which is why I added it to my TBR pile.
    I was struck by the fact that Elisa was fat because, let's face it, how many girls in YA books are fat? But I don't really mind that and just Elisa being fat alone, kinda makes me admire her. And those traits of hers you mentioned seemed like she makes for a great character.

    I've read Witchlanders, but I wasn't very into that so I gave it four stars. I hope The Girl of Fire and Thorns is better than it or at least in the same level of good entertainment.

    Again, great review! :)

  7. La Toya, It would be a good fantasy to start with! And even though it's part of a series, the end doesn't leave you with a million cliffhangers :P

    Danny, Thank you! If you didn't like the religion in the beginning, then I don't think you'll like part 2 much either. The religious stuff carries throughout the whole book and with a similar tone. But you never know! Happy New Year! :)

    Bookworm1858, I am a sucker for girls who love learning, too. I love their inquisitiveness because they always find out what *I* want to know :P

    Natalie, I hope you enjoy it! There are a lot of things going on, but I thought they came together nicely.

    Sarah, Thank you! I'm the same way about religion aspects. As long as I know what I'm getting, I'm more ok with it. I hope you enjoy TGoFaT!

    Guen, Thank you! You're right, most YA heroines are perfectly thin. Elisa never is (even when she does lose some weight). Her personality is what mattered the most to me though, and the only thing that really changed there was her self-confidence. The Girl of Fire and Thorns is similar to Witchlanders in that they both have developed worlds that center around religion and secrets about those religions, and they're fantasies. I think there are enough differences that even if you don't like one you can still like the other. I hope you enjoy it!

  8. I think I'll have to be on the lookout for this book!

  9. AH! That's good to know, cliffhangers make me so anxious lol!

  10. Ha! I don't know that I necessarily want to read this one, but the sub-titles throughout your review cracked me up. "Wait - Is this a praying book?" and "I don't like things in belly buttons." Thanks for keeping things interesting :)

  11. Bookish Hobbit, I can see you liking it! (though it's no Tolkien :P)

    La Toya, Me too! I dread cliffhangers. :)

    Katie, hehe I'm glad you liked them :D

  12. This is a fantastic review! This book has been on my wishlist for a while now and after reading this review I really, really want to buy it now. I'm a sucker for leading ladies who are smart, kick as, and are not freakishly thin.

    I'm glad you mentioned the religion part. Usually that would turn me off, but you make it sound like suck a great journey for the MC and I love a good fantasy. I think, with regards to religion in fantasy, I usually just pretend that it's all part of the made up world-building and roll with it. I try not to think too hard about the real world parallels, unless it gets way too preachy. In which case I'd probably put it down.

    (Thank you for the follow, btw)

  13. You pretty much nailed my thoughts in my review. I loved the worldbuilding but wasn't sad by any of the deaths. They happened and I moved on.

    I so hope we get some kissing action with Hector. When Elisa's husband (whose name I can no longer remember) turned out to be a douche, I hoped she'd get together with Hector.

  14. This is one of my favorites from 2011 so I'm happy to see all of its highlights here again in your review. I completely agree with you about Humberto. I was NOT feeling that romantic storyline at all so I was, uh, somewhat pleased by certain turns of events. I'm crossing my fingers for Hector, too!

  15. Again, you're reviews always crack me up and I love reading them. I have this book on my tbr shelf. I've been holding off because of the high fantasy factor, but it sounds really interesting, especially Elisa. Great review!

  16. I'm actually surprised you didn't like the love interest. We usually like the same guys!

    My favorite line: "I don't like things in belly buttons..." *ROFL* I chuckled so hard, because I imagined how your face would scrunch up as you said it.

    Like you, I wasn't BLOWN AWAY by this book, but I did like it a lot. And I agree, a lot of people seemed to hate Elisa for all the wrong reasons. She was probably my favorite aspect of the book!

    - Asher (from Paranormal Indulgence)

  17. Eden, Thank you! I hope you enjoy the book! I liked Elisa a lot. She wasn't overtly kick ass, but she has a strength to her that I admired. The religion had a lot of fantasy world building to it that I liked. (You're welcome, and thank YOU for the follow!)

    A Canadian Girl, The only death that did make me sad was the first one (first? I can't even remember. The one with the leg). Yes! we need good kissing action with Hector!

    Stephanie, Ah, good I'm not alone! I wasn't feeling him AT ALL. I was ok with the event for the same reason as you :) Bring on Hector!

    Julie, I'm so glad you do! :) I liked Elisa very much. She's not overtly strong, but I liked her and admire her.

    Asher, haha, that's true, we do! He was just too young for me I think. My face totally scrunches up when I say that :P I agree, I think Elisa got a bad rap.

  18. LOL, everytime I read about the stone in the belly my head immediately conjures up an image of those troll dolls that were all over the place in the 90s. I do like the sound of the political intrigue and I'm curious as to the weight issues. I got this one in my tbr pile already but glad to know that it was a solid read. I think it's a strong contender in the Morris (debut YA novel) Award by the ALA.

  19. Yes! Hector! I thought there were some hints that there's more to come there, which I hope is the case.

    You liked that "facet" of the story - the jewel. YOU PUNNER!

    I think this is a great example of religion done well. It's present, it's important to the characters, but without much moralizing or making us try to get on board with that religion. Much more cultural, and bravo to Carson for that!

  20. I've heard good things about this one, but nothing that really makes me want to read it and I don't know why. Oddly enough, it's fat Elisa I would like to read about. I like the idea of something different and real and sometimes I don't think it's hit on enough.

    Also, I do have a question. When you say "The plot could have been a little tighter" what do you mean??

    Excellent review, Smalls!

  21. Wow! Great review! Really great! I never even considered reading this one there were so many mixed reviews.
    But if you connected with the main character and the religion didn't bother you, I might have to try it. You really seem to like the main character. And while "Fat Elisa" offends me, I understand that's how she's portrayed and possibly even called in the book. I'm glad she doesn't just sit around and do nothing when she's in that state and complain about her looks.


  22. Amazing review. Sounds like "Girl" had a lot going on and you touched on everything. While I'm not a huge fan of love triangles right away, I'm sorry to hear she didn't get any lovin' to speak of. But sounds like she ended up learning to love herself and that's the most important thing!

  23. Rummanah, Ha! Yes! I can't help but think of those trolls, too. :P I hope you like the book!

    Logan, Yes! If you see it too then there's a good chance I'm not just making it up in my head because it's what I want Hehe, I love puns :P The worse they are the better! I agree, the religion was a lot more subtle than a certain other book you're probably thinking of :P

    Jen, I loved "Fat Elisa" (which is how she describes herself). She isn't a super hero, but she has a strength to her nonetheless. When I say the plot could have been tighter I mean, I thought the plot meandered a little--some scenes could have been cut, the pacing of certain scenes could have been adjusted to make it flow a bit more consistently. Nothing major, but a few tweaks here and there would have been nice.

    Heather, I'm sending a longer response to you in email :) "Fat Elisa" is how she thinks of herself.

    Alyssa, Thanks! It does have a lot going on, which I loved about it. It's less a love triangle exactly because her husband is pretty much just a royal alliance. She does end up loving herself, and that is a big part of the book. I was so happy for her!

  24. I don't think I could read this, since it's so long I have a hard time to stick with stuff that long if I don't feel it from the start and I'm afraid I would be bored with this.

    And since I trust you in the love-interest department, I don't think I would enjoy that either.



  25. Alex, Usually I have a really hard time with long books, but this one didn’t FEEL long at all. That said though, if it doesn’t sound like your kind of story to begin with, then, yeah, it’ll probably feel looong to you. I’m hoping the love interest situation improves in the next book.

  26. I'm excited to read this one!! I've seen a lot of really positive things about it and it seems like the type of book I would really enjoy when in a fantasy mood! I am also really intrigued that romance doesn't seem to be hugely prevalent in the story. I feel like EVERY book is ALL about the romance lately, so I kind of like that this one is... maybe not. :)


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