Elisa is the youngest princess of her country and chosen to fulfill a destiny that will save her country. Unfortunately in the sixteen years of her life Elisa hasn't not accomplished anything, especially compared to her perfect older sister. Her disappointment and self-loathing lead her to eat massive amounts of food, making her self-conscious of her body. When she is married off to a mysterious and handsome king, she feels more unsure of herself as she tries to play political games and attract her handsome husband. But when she is kidnapped by supposed allies, she learns that not all is as it seems. Not only is Elisa having to rethink her views of the people surrounding her, she must also rethink her self-image. Elisa learns that she is capable, but is this enough to save those that she has come to care for from a power that stems from her own unalienable religious beliefs?
I was highly intrigued by this book before I got it at ALA. I had read a review of it on Amazon (which I'm now unable to find) expressing frustration with how the book dealt with Elisa's binging. The reviewer wrote how Elisa's character seemed to show absolute delight in how the effect of her kidnapping and subsequent trek through a desert made her lose massive amounts of weight through starvation. So I spoke to a publisher at the ALA Conference, I brought up my concerns and was assured that the eating disorder wasn't dealt with in this way. I have to admit that I was a little skeptical, won't the publishers tell you what you want to hear to get you to read the book? AND isn't the cover quite misleading? Doesn't it just scream insensitive?
Nope. I can't say that I'm 100% pleased with how the binging was dealt with, but I have to say that it was still quite sensitive. Elisa talks about how even after her ordeal in the desert she isn't thin, but she is at a healthier weight. She isn't magically reprogrammed to be healthy and beautiful. She doesn't love herself at the end of the book, but I would say that she has a healthy respect for herself and has learned that she can rise to the occasion.
It also seems that the cover has changed, which I greatly appreciate. This book isn't really about body issues, but rather dealt with the overarching theme of finding self-respect and -worth. In other words, the book doesn't make a huge deal about the eating disorder, which I think makes it that much more powerful.
OK, now that we've dealt with the heavy stuff lets get to the rest of the review.
I would first like to say that I had a huge issue with the cover. Here's this thin beautiful girl and you start reading the book and realize that that's not her at all! Really throughout most of the book she is overweight, and even after her weight loss she is a (I assume) bigger girl. Let me add that I think this is awesome, there are so few books that have a normal sized girl in them. I feel like most female protagonists nowadays are all frail, thin, and in need of rescuing. Anyways, I found the cover obnoxious in its misrepresentation of an awesome heroine. A heroine who happens to be bigger. Why did they feel the need to do this? Blech. I'm guessing they heard this critique because it looks like they might have changed the cover:
I think it's somewhat of an improvement, but I don't think that they needed to just have Elisa represented as half a face. Yes the blue stone plays a huge part of the story, so I get that but seriously did they have to take Elisa's entire body and most of her face out? Really? I guess we call it a win since Elisa isn't completely misrepresented.
There's one more thing that irked me, and then I promise I'll tell you good things about the book. This wasn't a huge deal, it just niggled at me the entire book. It was the religion. I get it, the religion plays huge part of the story. It means a great deal to Elisa and gets her through many hard times. It's a no-brainer that because it's hugely intertwined in the culture that Rae Carson created that it would be intertwined throughout the book. I just didn't need it pushed into my face every other paragraph. For me it came off a bit preachy, and kind of Christian-centric. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but it seemed a bit heavy-handed.
So that's enough of the negativity, if you've stuck through the review long enough to get to this part well done. I am now ready to state that I enjoyed this book. It was a slow starter, but I'm so glad that I continued with it. What really drew me to read this was the fact that it was recommended for people who enjoyed Tamora Pierce. And I love me some Tamora Pierce. The characters are nuanced. Elisa's personal growth develops slowly, i.e. realistically, and there really aren't any one-dimensional characters. Some representations are a little obvious, e.g. King Alejandro as the first crush and Humberto as a first love, but it's pardonable. They move the story along, and lead to a fuller plot line. Every character has a purpose and add to Elisa's growth making the person that she ends up as at the end of the story someone you care about.
The plot itself was kind of slow, probably because Ms. Carson had quite a bit of exposition to get through. There were characters to introduce and kill, cultures to explain, a religious history to get through, and a main character to develop. Also this is the first of a trilogy and I feel like the pacing of the book was spot on for the first book. There's still so much storyline to get through, so much personal growth to develop, that to try and get any more into the first book would cramp the style. You can practically hear Rae Carson saying, "There's no need to rush, I've got two more books to tell my tale. I'm going to do this the right way." AND SHE DOES!
This has gotten a bit long, so I'm going to end here. Worth the read, enjoyed it and anticipate the sequel. Were things perfect? No, but overall it was pretty classic. Some nifty spins on things. Rae Carson did Tamora Pierce proud.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns comes out September 20th.