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on 25 November 2011
[...]
Caroline for [...]

This gorgeous coming of age tale transports you completely to a world of sumptuous palaces, humid jungles, lush oases and stunning, yet unforgiving, deserts. A land of beauty and of danger, this superb world building is not at the expense of the story's pacing. There is never a dull moment and like our protagonist Elisa; we are thrown from one experience to another. However the action never feels forced or gratuitous as each experience moves the story forward and informs Elisa's character development. The main problem you have as a reader is deciding where to leave your book mark as you reluctantly turn in for the night!

Although this is an action filled fantasy adventure with a few crush worth males thrown in for good measure, this is very much a character driven story and it is the character arc which I LOVE most about this book. We watch a girl with cripplingly low self esteem blossom in to a determined, capable and confident young woman.

Elisa's voice is intelligent and brutally honest, to the point of causing the reader discomfort. When we first meet her Elisa is, in her own opinion, a lazy underachiever who is so fat that she is unable to walk for more than a few minutes before tiring and becoming physically uncomfortable.
Taking the childhood teasing of her glamorous, capable older sister to heart Elisa has spent years believing that the disappointment of her birth caused her mother's death. These feeling of worthlessness have prevailed despite the honour of being the bearer of the Godstone and destined to do great things in the service of her god.

Filled with conflicting emotions and confusing self beliefs, on the one hand Elisa feels suffocated by the expectation of predetermined greatness. On the other, she is increasingly concerned that her biggest fear, (that she will not fulfil her destiny) will be realised. Simultaneously, she seems to be wilfully sabotaging herself with her extreme eating. It is, after all, one thing to fail at something if you haven't tried, soul destroying to fail because you were somehow lacking, and Elisa believes she is lacking. A lifetime of being talked over, of others making life changing decisions without consulting her, with her destiny predetermined, her food intake is the one thing she can control.

I have read other reviews which have looked negatively at our protagonist's eventual weight loss, viewing it as a bad example to impressionable young girls. I could understand their point if the weight loss was the cause of Elisa's character development and increased confidence. But this isn't a fluffy make over story. While she does eventually revel in the aesthetic element of her weight loss it is the changed to her health, to her physical capability that she notices first and values most. Elisa's development begins long before the period of extreme physical demand which happens to result in her weight loss. I believe that it is in fact the changes in her character from an increased sense of control, of self awareness and a sense of purpose that enable the permanent changes in her behaviour, resulting in sustained weight loss and improved self confidence.
While the story of Fire and Thorns concludes in the absence of infuriating cliff hangers I am left with a strong desire to return to Elisa's story. Lucky for me Fire and Thorn is the first of a planned trilogy.

Verdict: Believable world building: Check, Fantastic plot and pacing: Check, Crush worthy male characters: Check, Character development: Check. This fantastic debut has it all. I am eagerly anticipating the continuation of Elisa's story.
4.5/5
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on 21 September 2013
The Girl of Fire and Thorns surely hits all the marks on the checklist of "YA high fantasy novels"; however, something about it just lacked that spark that would make this a truly memorable novel that has me coming back for more. It never really wow-ed me, which, I guess, I really expected to happen. (Maybe it is once again due to the many people who swore I'd absolutely love this novel.) So my opinion is overall rather mixed.

The plot of the novel is the gem that gets a bit overshadowed by the smaller, more annoying bits. But we'll get to that. So Elisa is first forced into a marriage with King Alejandro and experiences court life, trying to figure out which role she is best suited to play. Then, she is kidnapped as one of many parties decides they need to use her, being God's chosen, to save their people. There is a great deal of mystery concerning what her task is, as God's chosen, and she has a fair bit of struggle with that. The pacing is perfect, and at no point does the novel become boring. There is no info-dumping and no long descriptive passages of traveling as one might expect of a high fantasy. Perhaps the best part of Rae Carson's storytelling ability is her decision to take risks. Characters die in this book. Characters you grow close to. That really keeps you on your toes and makes the story much more exciting.

The characterizations left me wishing for more. Though Elisa was an intriguing main character - a somewhat spoiled princess harshly confronted with reality - I found it difficult to sympathize with her for some reason (maybe because she was too quick to go back to some of her princess-y ways after escaping the desert, and I hoped she'd be more strong and independent based on her experiences). I must say as well that at first I was intrigued by Rae Carson's choice to make Elisa, to be blunt, fat. I thought it was an interesting choice that could well work in this world and may, in YA, create some more positive feelings about different body types. But no. After being ridiculed in the castle for her body shape (which, I would argue, doesn't fit in a high fantasy medieval-like setting - where traditionally the more heavy set people were envied because they had enough food to eat to become so fat) Elisa then travels through the desert under harsh conditions and loses almost all of that extra weight. Umm... seriously, what was the point of this then?

My main issue with the love interests is that, to be honest, Humberto and Hector are identical. Their characters are exactly the same. They regard Elisa in the same way. They have the same kinds of interactions with her. It's all too obvious. Maybe I would not have thought this if I didn't have *some* clue as to how the romance goes in The Crown of Embers, but I still think it's really sad. However, aside from an "I love you" that was maybe a bit too quick, the romance was handled rather nicely and didn't take dominance over the rest of the story. And it's not a love triangle... really. If that's what you're worried about. So there's something to be said for that.

The omnipresence of religion started off as interesting, gradually became lightly irritating, and then, ultimately, rather annoying. I'm not a religious person, and to have to read statements like, "God will show me the way" or "have faith, that's all you need" or "just pray, just keep praying" all throughout 300 pages is exhausting (not to mention how it sounds like Elisa and her maid Ximena seriously do nothing else with their lives other than read the Scriptura Sancta... seriously). Now I know, this is a fantasy and a vastly different world than our own, where the presence of magic almost inherently asks for a religion or god. I just felt it was overdone to the point where I almost dreaded continuing. The point is, the existence of this God is poorly developed and not yet well integrated in the world building. (The world building, overall, to me, was lackluster and rather average.) But I think that, this time, is due to the fact this is a series. Which kind of makes me sigh.

Summing Up...

Ultimately, while this book screams "AVERAGE" to me, I think the series holds a lot of potential. I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt and continue anyway. Elisa had a lot of character growth to get through in this novel, and I think I'll like how the events of the first book shaped her for the rest of the series. The conclusion definitely gave me hope that I will like The Crown of Embers better.

Recommended To...

Fans of classic high fantasies who aren't afraid of a few clichés, or people who want to try the genre for the first time.
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on 7 November 2012
One person every century is chosen by God to do a great task and this person is Princess Elisa. On her 16th birthday she is married to a neighbour King but he is not the only one who seeks her. Some wants to kill her and some who thinks she is their saviour. Elisa is a marvellous character who changes and grows so much in this book. The story is full of so many twists and turns and a brilliantly written fantasy for very one no matter what age.
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on 27 January 2016
I absolutely adored this book! I’m a huge fan of fantasy and this story had the perfect balance of magic, romance and epic drama. Rae carson is definitely an author of amazing talent and one who will forever be on my watch list. An amazing start to what promises to be a fantastic trilogy, I loved each and every page of A Girl of Fire and Thorns.

Sixteen year old Elisa is an over weight Princess, set to marry the King of a failing country. Now taken away from everything she knows and everyone she loves, her only comfort comes from the God stone, a living gem buried deep inside her navel.

For Elisa is God’s chosen, the first stone bearer in over a hundred years to be picked by God to carry out a great task… only what this task is, no one knows. But with war threatening the existence of her new country, Elisa finds herself in the centre of a centuries old power struggle, and everyone is relying on her to save them from the deadly sorcerers from across the mountains. Yet Elisa knows nothing of warfare. She is a scholar, not a warrior, but with the future of her country at stake, can she find the courage to do what’s right? Or will she run from her destiny, her husband and her people and become a Princess of the desert?

An epic read! With a unique plot and a desert setting, I devoured this book in mere days. Broken up into different parts, this book follows Elisa on her journey, from a princess, to a queen, to a desert nomad, to rebel leader. She is such a diverse character and I loved watching her grow proportionately greater throughout the story. She is both selfless and strong of heart, finding the best in each and every person.

However,being regarded as overweight, she is self conscious of her figure and does not see her better qualities. I enjoyed reading the interactions between her and the King. Despite their arranged marriage a friendship is formed, however the real emotion in this story came from Elisa’s relationship with the simple desert nomad, Humberto. Despite their forbidden love I couldn't help but root for them, even knowing things would probably end tragically.

Yet all the characters play great parts in the story. Everyone comes with a hidden past and shoulders grief and secrets of their own. The plot meanders all over the place and is in no way predictable. Some scenes made me gasp, one made me cry while others made me laugh aloud. A true roller coaster of emotions.

I must admit though, I did think the start of the book was a little slow, but still interesting, and parts two and three really picked up in both action and pace. The world building is really amazing though, extremely detailed and descriptive.

Words alone cannot do this book justice. For any fans of fantasy, I wholly recommend you try reading this book for yourself. 5 stars!
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Imagine if you were the Chosen One... but had no idea what you were destined to do, and had no discernible skills.

Such a girl is at the heart of "Fire and Thorns," a richly textured fantasy about a seemingly ordinary princess who is destined to be involved in much, much more. Rae Carson obviously put a lot of love into her fantasy world, as well as a heroine who defies most of the "princess" tropes.

Once every century, a child is marked with the divine Godstone, showing that they are destined to serve God somehow. Princess Elisa is its newest bearer.

And because of a treaty, she is reluctantly married to beautiful, kind King Alejandro of Joya d'Arena. But her new homeland is a strange, not-very-welcoming place, especially since the marriage is being kept secret for mysterious reasons. There are plenty of backstabbers, rivals and even a brewing war with Invierne.

And in Joya d'Arena, Elisa soon discovers religious truths about the Godstone that nobody in her country would tell her. But when a band of revolutionaries kidnaps her, she finds herself fighting Invierne's animagi -- and a terrible magic that uses Godstones and blood. Now Elisa must not only save herself, but her new country as well.

Sorcery, religion, politics, ancient texts and a legendary jewel that channels God's will -- nobody can accuse Rae Carson of writing a book without plot. In fact, "Fire and Thorns" is dense with brewing events that eventually explode into battle, with colorful, richly descriptive prose ("robes as white as quartz").

Carson also came up with a thoroughly likeable, unstereotypical princess. Elisa is a chubby, shy, studious girl at the story's beginning, self-conscious about her weight and intimidated by her sister and Alejandro. While she grows in confidence and strength, she never stops feeling like a real person who gets embarrassed and awkward.

And the world Carson comes up with is pretty fascinating as well. It seems to be based on Spanish and Middle-Eastern cultures, complete with a sort of pseudo-Catholicism that features heavily in the plot. It's not preachy, but Carson isn't afraid to tackle the tough questions of God's will, destiny and religious divisions.

"Fire and Thorns" is filled with rich fantasy cultures and sensual writing, but the real draw here is Elisa herself. And it leaves you wishing to know what happens to her next.
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on 4 January 2013
The narrative of this story is wonderfully descriptive, and Rae Carson's smooth writing style brings to life both the world in which Elisa lives, and all the characters that populate it.

"Fire and Thorns" (originally titled, The Girl of Fire and Thorns) is at its heart a coming of age story about Elisa. All her life she's known that she is was 'chosen', but if her sixteen years have taught her anything it's that she's remarkably unremarkable for someone waiting to do a great deed. When we first meet her she's insecure and pudgy, and very self-critical.

The romance is well-written, and there's more than one flirtation for Elisa, but this is never written in a way other than what I could imagine happening in real life. Crush versus real love, and recognizing the people who say they will be there for you, over the people who actually show you they truly are there for you. Having said that, despite the elements of romance, there are so many wonderful plot twists in the story, and such growth of character for Elisa, that the romance never overshadows her and her self-discovery. Which is one of the reasons I've chosen not to mention the names of the other characters in this book. I'd love for other readers to discover them, without too much of an introduction beforehand, because I loved jumping into this novel, knowing very little before I started too. Sometimes trailers and reviews can give too much away, and I hope not to give away too much.

She's taken from the safety of her father's castle, and it's in the outside world that she finally discovers who she really is, even if she's still unsure of what her chosen task(s) are, or will be. The plot takes Elisa and the reader on a voyage of discovery, where she discovers that maybe all that she knows about being a chosen, is merely the tip of the iceberg. There are things that others know and have kept from her, and there are things only she can know if she has faith.

I loved Elisa's voice, and the complexity of the characters in this story. Not all the good guys are a hundred percent 'good', nor do all the bad guys seem entirely bad. They are simply a bunch of flawed people doing their best - or worst.

Elisa's wonderfully perceptive and aware of the motivations of others, but even she's caught by surprise by one or two characters, who in their own way will change her life forever.

Overall: The characters are easy to relate to and wonderfully complex. The world creation, with its elements of religion, faith and magic make for a fascinating read, and when you throw into the mix rebels, invaders, and treachery...well, that's a mix that makes this a real page-turner. I couldn't put it down :) 5 out of 5 stars.
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The enigmatic nation of Invierne is menacing the borders of both its neighbours, vast Joya d'Arena and its former vassal state of Orovalle. The two kingdoms have allied together against this threat through a marriage pact, with King Alejandor wedding Princess Elisa of Orovalle. This simple alliance is strengthened by the fact that Elisa is the bearer, the wielder of the Godstone. For two thousand years the bearers have performed great acts of bravery and heroism against the forces of evil.

However, Elisa is no hero. Pampered and overweight, she doubts her holy mission. But the boiling deserts of Joya d'Arena will prove her testing ground as she struggle to unlock the secrets of the Godstone, and those of the bearers who came before her.

Fire and Thorns (published as The Girl of Fire and Thorns in the USA) has the whiff of the standard fantasy epic to it. It's the opening volume of a trilogy, it features a callow young protagonist who grows into their destiny as the book unfolds and it's set in a fictional world. That said, it does feature a (relatively) uncommon setting, influenced heavily by Moorish Spain, and there is no map (somewhat irritatingly, as the book does feature some fairly intricate geography which the vague descriptions in the book don't really help establish).

The book is told in the first person by Elisa, who makes for an engaging protagonist. Much has been made by readers about the fact that Elisa is overweight when the book begins and that the author raises the issues of body image and confidence issues and explores them in an interesting manner. This much is true, although there has also been criticism of the fact that as Elisa transforms from callow youth to badass warrior queen she also drops the weight, which seems to be suggesting that overweight people can't be confident and strong rulers in their own right. This is a slightly problematic issue, although I think it's more a reflection of the fact that the story takes our heroine across burning deserts and through thick jungles on months-long journeys where it is implausible she wouldn't get fitter (unlike a certain other author's character called Samwell Tarly, cough). Still, the author does manage to raise and explore the issue without overburdening the book with it.

Fire and Thorns is in YA territory. There is no overt sex or swearing, and the violence is somewhat mild, although several major characters are killed in a rather offhand manner. There is the threat of gushing romance, but it never really materialises (somewhat thankfully) as the war and action storylines take prominence. More disappointingly, there is some very solid set-up done for some promising political intrigue which never really materialises. The resolution of the political plot is in fact rather disappointingly pat and convenient. However, there are some solid twists in the magical storyline, as Elisa uncovers the history of the Godstones and discovers their true purpose.

Caron writes engagingly, making Fire and Thorns (***½) a fast, easy and, despite the aforementioned issues, enjoyable read. Those looking for something dark and gritty best look elsewhere, but for a lightweight, easy-to-read fantasy this is more entertaining than most. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.
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on 12 May 2013
`The Girl of Fire and Thorns' is an example of a book I felt was written really well, so much so that even though I didn't particularly enjoy the central premise of the novel, I really enjoyed the book as a whole. I read this on a recommendation, without researching it too heavily beforehand. However, fairly soon after starting the book I realised that despite the fact it's a fantasy novel set in a fantasy world, it's heavily religious in its theme.

It's not something I'd usually buy but I persevered - and I'm glad I did. On her sixteenth birthday, Elisa is married to a prince of a neighbouring kingdom. She is also named in an ancient prophecy that marks out one person a century for life of greatness. But this prophecy also makes her a target, and with the realm facing increasing tension and civil war, Elisa is unwillingly drawn into the heart of the action.

Like any good protagonist, Elisa undergoes a personal, and in this case a physical, transformation over the course of the book. However, this transformation was woven into the fabric of the book and it didn't feel forced. There was also a great cast of supporting characters, and although I didn't relate to some of them, this was purely because of the nature of their personalities rather than a lack of one. There's a strong fantasy and magical element as well as an intricate central love story and it really engaged me as a reader. I'll definitely be reading the next book in the trilogy.
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VINE VOICEon 14 January 2015
An interesting fantasy, for both YA and adults alike. On Princess Elisa's naming day when she was a baby, she was gifted by god with his God Stone which was embedded in her navel. Once every hundred years someone is gifted with a God Stone, which means that they are chosen for great things. Flash forward to Elisa's sixteenth birthday. Elisa has low self esteem and is overshadowed by her eldest sister who is the heir to her father's throne. Elisa, although very well educated and a scholar, feels useless in comparison to her sister and comfort eats to compensate, consequently she is very overweight which adds to her low self esteem. Her father, in an attempt to protect her, marries her off to a neighbouring king. In actual fact in so doing he is thrusting her into danger as the kingdom he's marrying her into is under threat from an invading army. An army who has animages who use blood sorcery to help conquer other countries. They want a living God Stone, which means danger for Elisa. This first book follows the personal journey of Elisa, as a uncertain girl who considers herself worthless, to a more confident seventeen year old. The book is full of action and adventure, as we follow Elisa's initial progress.
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on 29 July 2012
This is an incredibly well written book. The plot is complex and leaves the reader guessing, it had so much more depth than I first thought it would. I expected Fire and Thorns to be a simple YA novel but I was so wrong, this is easily one of the best books I've read. It is written like an Adult novel, and I just loved how well it was done. I read this book slowly to savour it and take in all the details. There were so many twists in this book and I honestly didn't see any of them coming which made me cling to the book tighter in suspense.

I loved Elisa's character she was so real, she had many flaws which she has to fight with throughout the book to find her true self. It was a great journey and I would willingly do it again. Each character was well fleshed out and I just loved the changes and growth they all went through.

I apologise for the short review but I don't want to spoil anything but the one thing I need to stress is that you need this book! It is brilliant and one of the best books I've ever read.
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