Rae Carson – The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Read By: Jennifer Ikeda
Length: 12h 10m (432 pages)
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Started: 14 August 2012
Finished: 31 August 2012
Where did it come from? From HarperChildren’s Audio for review.
Why do I have it? I’d heard lots of good buzz about it – on Twitter and elsewhere.
Being a Bearer
negates the need for piercing
your belly button.
Summary: Princess Elisa has known from birth that she is destined for great things. She bears the Godstone, a jewel in her navel, the sign that she is a Bearer, one who comes once every four generations to perform a great service in the name of God. But Elisa doesn’t feel like she’s capable of a great service: she’s well-educated, but not as politically savvy, as confident, or as thin as her elder sister. When she’s married to the King of a neighboring country, a country that is on the verge of war with the sorcerous mages of Invierne, she will have to find the confidence in herself to complete her destined task. But how will she even know what that task is, when she knows so little about the Godstone and what it means, and when even the few people she thinks she can trust are keeping secrets from her?
Review: This book didn’t quite work for me, but I’m having a heck of a time trying to pin down exactly why not. More specifically, I’m trying to figure out why I was so decidedly “meh” about this book while I absolutely loved The Curse of Chalion, given that their major theme – what it means to be chosen by God (or a god) to carry out their will in the world – is essentially the same.
I think a large part of it boils down to the difference between “chosen by God” vs. “chosen by a god.” The religious system in The Girl of Fire and Thorns is never explicitly Christian, but apart from some changes in the details, it’s pretty obviously Christian in derivation. There’s a lot of emphasis on the sustaining power of prayer, and the nobility of self-sacrifice and service to others, etc. And while I’ve said that I like books about religion, I don’t like religious books, and this one felt like it too often tipped to the wrong side of that line. There wasn’t a whole lot of critical thinking about the religion within the scope of the book, and the one avenue that I thought was promising – what if God had also chosen Bearers among the enemy? – was dismissed as heretical and not explored very fully. Maybe that’s the difference: while Elisa is trying to figure out what it means to be a Bearer, she never questions that it is something sacred and holy, but Cazaril from The Curse of Chalion is able to look at the process of being a saint with a more wryly self-reflective eye, and he’s able to admit that the whole process is damned inconvenient at times.
I think another reason The Girl of Fire and Thorns didn’t really work for me as well as it could have is that I didn’t really care for any of the characters. I like my heroines strong-willed and competent, and while Elisa gets there (sort of) eventually, I was already pretty annoyed with her uselessness and doormat-ish-ness by the time she did. I also wasn’t thrilled with the fact that she doesn’t find her self-confidence and skills until she loses weight. I appreciated that she didn’t magically become super-skinny, but I would have been better pleased if she’d realized that she had the ability to do great things etc. etc. no matter what she looked like, rather than the realization of “hey, I’m not fat anymore! Maybe I can be useful after all!” It’s subtle, but it still bugged.
It’s a shame that I had these problems with the characters and the religious system, though, since I thought the worldbuilding, and Carson’s prose style, had a lot of potential. I don’t see a lot of Spanish-flavored fantasy (although there’s another similarity to The Curse of Chalion!), and I enjoyed how Carson was able to move the setting from castle to jungle to desert and back, really capturing the feeling of each. Jennifer Ikeda also did a fine job with the audiobook reading, really bringing the characters to life and doing a nice job differentiating the voices. 3 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Overall, this book wasn’t bad, and I can definitely see it appealing to those who don’t mind a strong Christian-y flavor to their fantasy, but I never really got into it enough to be motivated to seek out the sequels.
Other Reviews: Book Harbinger, The Book Nest, Good Books & Good Wine, The Written World, and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: Prayer candles flicker in my bedroom.
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