Greenwillow, 2011, 423 pages
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 seeks 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 read this because it kept coming up on rec lists. Why, I am not sure. It wasn't a bad book. The Girl of Fire and Thorns is a book I probably would have liked well enough when I was twelve. But it's certainly not a great book. The world is a little different from the usual generic medieval fantasy world, but not too different — it's a bunch of small desert kingdoms practicing variant forms of the same religion. It's basically Christianity with the serial numbers filed off, and instead of a Savior there is a "Bearer of the Godstone," every generation.
This generation, it's Princess Elisa, a pampered daughter of a king, basically a nice person but she's always been overshadowed by her older, prettier, thinner, smarter, more ambitious sister. Lazy, spoiled, fat Elisa abruptly learns that she's being married off to a neighboring king. Elisa is only slightly shocked by this, since she's been raised as an educated princess so she knows what the deal is. Princesses are for marrying for political alliances.
Her husband, Alejandro, turns out to be a decent enough guy. But when she rides off to her new home, she learns that there are a lot of other things going on that she's been kept unaware of, or maybe just hasn't paid attention to because she never expected she was going to do much of anything important, despite the "godstone" in her navel.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns does several things quite well. The first is coming up with a somewhat clever new take on the Chosen One trope. According to their religion, Elisa has been "chosen" by God. But chosen for what turns out to be a matter of considerable doctrinal dispute. Elisa finds out that small nuances of scriptural interpretation differ on whether or not she's actually supposed to die. The people who think the chosen one is expected to die are willing to expedite the prophecy. Needless to say, Elisa is not keen on this and kind of prefers the "Chosen-One-does-not-die" interpretation.
The use of religion was another thing the book did well. For people who complain that not enough fantasies treat religion seriously and realistically, this is probably a good book for you. The religion practiced in The Girl of Fire and Thorns is never spelled out precisely, but it is pretty easily read as a form of Christianity, and everyone, including Elisa, takes it seriously. There are rival denominations and scriptural differences and Elisa reacts with shock and dismay to discover that the "bad guys" worship God and go to church too, and think they're the ones who are right!
It's a pleasant light fantasy with only a little magic, and Elisa really does show initiative and character growth. However, it's Young Adult. Which means the sophistication of the plot and the world never rise above YA levels. The writing is decent, but the inner mental landscape of a teenage princess wondering if she's too fat for any man to find her desirable is not my cup of girly tea. And in the end, things get resolved way too often by Elisa praying and the godstone suddenly doing something magical.
It's not bad, definitely not terrible, but this is the first book in a trilogy and I'm not interested in the rest.
Have you read The Girl of Fire and Thorns?
Verdict: Better writing than the average YA novel, with a genuinely intelligent and engaging protagonist and serviceable worldbuilding, but The Girl of Fire and Thorns was an unexceptional book that's definitely aimed at a younger, girlier audience. Okay, but not for me.
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