Top critical review
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Mainstream, curious, average.
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.
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.
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.