|Title: The Girl of Fire and Thorns|
|Author: Rae Carson|
|Genre: High fantasy|
|Elements: Kingdoms, Deserts, Religion|
|Series: Book 1 of the Fire and Thorns series|
I generally try not to review books where religion has a strong influence on the main storyline. Despite having lived my whole life in multi-racial, multi-cultural Singapore, I have this fear that I might accidentally offend someone. So I err on the side of caution, and this translates into my reading and reviewing preferences.
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.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns's religious aspect is really well done. It's an integral part of the universe and has such a strong presence in the main storyline that it would be easy to have overdone or underplay its significance. Carson's careful crafting and utilization of the topic shows us the importance of religion in the Fire and Thorns universe, as well as the development of the religion through the ages, and its impact of society.
Through Elisa's eyes, we get to see her piety, as well as the added impact of bearing the Godstone on herself and others. As in real life, there are differing degrees of piety, interpretations of the religion and texts based on it, and this plays a big part in propelling the story forward.
This is not just the story of religion. It's neither just the story of a person chosen for greatness, nor the story of a princess in a political marriage. It's not even the story of an overweight girl in a society similar to ours. The Girl of Fire and Thorns is all of that and more, which is a lot to pack into a novel. (Unless you're George R. R. Martin, in which case it's not enough.)
The bildungsroman aspect is heightened as Elisa is entered into a political marriage, particularly the uncertainty of finding yourself and not living under someone else's shadow. Elisa's weight plays a huge part in establishing relationships and side storylines, though it's lovely to see that Elisa doesn't put herself down because of it. She knows her strengths and uses them to help herself in potentially sticky situations. As a character, Elisa is truly admirable as she learns to navigate politics, kidnappers, rebels and political machinations.
The side characters are varied, and Carson constantly keeps readers on our toes as she keeps us guessing as to what is going to happen next. Even questions as to who Elisa will end up with has to be constantly analysed. In the grand scheme of things, the romance is not an integral part of the story, though it does have an impact on the storyline. I expect we'll see more development in the sequels in this aspect, and it'll be just as heart-wrenching and passionate as what is portrayed in The Girl of Fire and Thorns. I look forward to what Carson brings us in the next stage of Elisa's life, and I hope she won't be put through the wringer (as much)!