I picked up The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson, after Veronica Roth recommended it on her blog. I thought it was interesting that she asked people who find religion to be disgusting and nauseating to read the book with an open mind:
I feel like I should say that if the word “religion” makes you feel squicky, I understand how that feels (I’ve felt that way at certain points in my life, and still do sometimes), but I encourage you to approach this book with an open mind.
I’m sad that she feels it’s necessary to make a special plea to those who find religion repulsive. I’m not saying she didn’t do the right thing (in fact, I’m going to do the same thing), just saying I wish people didn’t find novels squicky when there is an established religious system and a god in the story world.
At any rate, I think fantasy worlds with religious systems are richer than worlds without, so I checked the book out right away. I read one chapter and bought the book. It’s a genre I love, and it starts with a sixteen-year-old girl having to face a life-changing event, which is scenario I love.
So I snapped it right up.
I’m afraid I would have never bought this book if I’d been browsing shelves and came across it. I would not have even picked it up to read the backcover copy. I’ve read that others like the cover. The designers and publishers apparently like it. Sadly, I am not taken with it. (I didn’t care for the cover of The Diamond of Darkhold, either, come to think of it. Maybe I have a thing against large blue gems on covers.) If you find the color and the gem with the woman’s face inside of it to be off-putting, disregard the cover and buy the book anyway. It’s a good book. A very good book.
If you like the cover, just ignore that preceding paragraph, please. (But really is it just me? What do you all think of the US cover above and what do you think of the UK cover here? I would have snapped up the UK cover to read the first chapter.)
Enough about the cover. What about the book?
A Smart Heroine
I liked Elisa from the beginning. She was smart, and self-sacrificing. She suffered from a low self-esteem, but she was a strong character from the beginning. Very strong.
At sixteen she is being married off to a king she’s never met. She feels inadequate. She also thinks that her family is getting rid of her because they don’t like her much. She’s a fat girl, and she’s afraid her new husband will hold her in disdain. But all the feelings of inadequacy don’t bring the character down because it’s clear from the begining that she’s a very smart girl. She’s studied classical literature and languages. She’s studied the art of war. She’s not sure what use can she be to anyone but the reader can see that she’s got good brains and we can guess that those are going to come in handy.
I love this kind of heroine. I was just lamenting last month on the fact that so many kick-ass heroines beat up men with their bare hands. This book gave me a kick-ass heroine who outwits her opponents. I liked it.
The Story World
As I’ve already said, I think worlds with religion feel more fleshed out. People are religious. Men have always worshiped something. But there was much more to like than the religion. The book is well-written and the world is well developed. There are forests and deserts and all of it was well painted so I could visualize the countryside and the buildings in the cities. I had a good picture of the land in my head, and I had a good understanding of the political situation.
The religion in the book wasn’t Christianity, though it seems sure that the author was influenced by the Christian Scriptures when she wrote up some of her own sacred texts for her world. I don’t care what the religion is, I’m just saying that for people who find Christianity offensive: This book wasn’t pushing Christianity at all.
One lesson in the book that seemed important to the author was the idea that we can’t really know what God’s will is. Different people devoted to the sacred text interpreted it differently, so no one really knew what their God’s will was. The heroine was the only one who admitted to not knowing his will and that was presented as the superior position, I think. That was an interesting comment the author made on the Church, I thought. The character went to the texts to see for herself what she believed, but she didn’t find any answers in the text, that I remember, which was also interesting.
The book also seems to hit on self-esteem, which is not a favorite theme for me. I, being a cranky Calvinist, would like to see young people today have a lot less self-esteem and a lot more of the mind of Christ which esteems others as better than itself. But I also saw a lot in the book I could get behind. I saw that fat girls aren’t necessarily stupid or lazy. I also saw that beauty is way more than skin deep. Some of the most beautiful characters, physically, were wicked and/or cowardly. The book also made of point of showing that keeping promises is important and that doing what you can do is better than sitting around saying you can’t do anything.
I liked this one very much. I loved several of the characters, including Elisa, and I’m buying the next one in the trilogy for sure. If you like Shannon Hale and Julie Berry, this one is for you.