The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Elisa is a princess, but she has always been plagued by a sense of insecurity and inadequacy, leaving the complexities of state affairs to her father the king and her confident and beautiful older sister. Instead of officiating at court functions, Elisa is more likely to be found in the kitchens eating pastries. However, she cannot avoid her destiny forever, for she has been chosen by God for a noble yet mysterious destiny. When she is married off as part of a state treaty to a man she has never met, her life suddenly becomes much more complicated…and not just politically.
Overall, I enjoyed this story of a teenager growing in courage, confidence, and maturity as she faces the complexities of love, faith, and destiny. The vaguely Latin New World setting is unusual in YA fantasy, and the author developed it pretty well, making for an interesting world to read about. Elisa’s personal growth over the course of the story was also well done. She begins the book as an overweight, underconfident girl and ends it as a powerful, strong young woman. I did feel that the book was overlong – the middle section, where Elisa was kidnapped by desperate citizens of a distant portion of the realm, felt forced at times and too lengthy. For some reason I found the palace settings a lot more interesting. But overall, the story was well-told enough to be entertaining.
This book placed faith at front and center in an interesting and mostly positive way. Elisa was chosen by God as an infant to be destined to perform an unspecified act of Service. The symbol of her special destiny is a gem which is embedded in her navel, known as the Godstone. (It’s not as weird as it sounds, trust me.) In Elisa’s world, God chooses a Bearer every hundred years. Some of the Bearers perform obvious acts of courage in the fighting of evil; others die without apparently fulfilling their destiny (though sometimes years or decades later a deed of theirs is revealed to be significant). Elisa doesn’t feel courageous or noble, but she never loses faith that God will use her somehow.
The religious setting in the story has plenty in common with real life. Different societies and individuals claim to be doing very different – and sometimes morally suspect – things in the name of religious fervor. Different factions within the religion teach contradictory interpretations of the sacred texts. And Elisa at times struggles with personal doubts and confusion. Yet through it all, the presence of her Godstone and her knowledge of being God’s chosen instrument sustain her faith. The Godstone warns her of danger and gives her a sense of God’s presence when she prays. The religion portrayed in the book is definitely not Christianity — there is no mention of a Christ-like figure — but there are strong parallels in ceremonial form (though the central ‘sacrament’ is a little weird), and even in the substance of some of the hymns. But this religion is obviously meant to be similar to Christianity, and it is not mocked, belittled, or viewed as foolish or evil. I don’t mean to sound like I’m saying this is a Christian book – it’s a young-adult self-discovery book. But at least it’s a book that is respectful towards religion – and the self-discovery going on is of the positive variety!