Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Title: The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Author: Rae Carson

Publisher: Greenwillow (HarperCollins)

Release Date: September 20th, 2011

Interest: High Fantasy

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
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.

I still view myself as a new fan of high fantasy, but I know when it’s done right.  The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson is high fantasy done right.

Usually when I’m torn over a book I break it into a list of what worked and what didn’t work.  I’m not torn about this book at all because I LOVED IT, but I’m going to make this review simple and break down everything that is awesome about The Girl of Fire and Thorns into a list.  Sometimes lists are necessary, especially when reviewing a fantastic book.

Everything That Is Awesome About Rae Carson’s Debut:

  • The World Building–I think my friend Kellee from Teach Mentor Texts said it best when she said that the world building in The Girl of Fire and Thorns is similar Kristin Cashore’s world building.  Her use of imagery makes the world come alive on the page and very easy to visualize.  It’s not simple, but it’s not overdone; the reader doesn’t need a map to know where everything is, like in many high fantasy novels.
  • The Premise–I know some readers have been turned off by the fact that the Godstone resides in the bearer’s belly button, but it didn’t bother me.  I like how original the idea is and how it played out in the novel.  I was constantly wondering about the Godstone and what might happen with it, and I was pleasantly surprised at the end.  I like that the reader figures this out with Elisa; it engaged me as a reader and made me feel more connected to Elisa.  Religion plays a large role in The Girl of Fire and Thorns, but it isn’t your average book about faith.  Elisa needs to stay faithful and learn to have faith in herself, but the religion is different.  It’s written in such a way that those who may shy away from books with religious themes will probably enjoy this.  The way magic is mixed in to the story gives this religion a different flair.
  • The Characters–Elisa is a breath of fresh air.  She isn’t a perfect, beautiful, graceful character.  She’s fat, unsure of herself, and in many ways naive which makes her more realistic.  The growth of her character is outstanding and so much fun to watch.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching her become strong and independent.  The supporting characters are wonderful.  I particularly enjoyed Lord Hector, Humberto, and Ximena.  They’re vibrant and make the story so much stronger.
  • The Pacing–Many of the high fantasy novels I’ve read are dense in story, lore, background, mythology, etc.  Rae Carson’s novel is lengthy at 424 pages, but it’s fast-paced and easy to read.  Many of the character’s names and the different settings are hard to pronounce, but it didn’t hold me back from enjoying and understanding the story.  I had a hard time putting this one down, especially since the chapters are short and end in just the right way to keep me wanting more.
  • The Ending–No, I’m not going to spoil the outcome of the story.  I’m simply going to say that I’m happy about a “real” ending to a book kicking off a series.  No horrible cliffhanger that makes you want to throw the book.  The ending is perfect because it leaves me satisfied and wanting more at the same time.

If you haven’t read The Girl of Fire and Thorns yet, I highly recommend reading it as soon as possible.  I’m teaching this in my YA Lit II class and couldn’t be happier about it; it’s going to work perfectly in my fantasy unit.  The good thing for those of us who are just now reading this book is that we only have to wait until September 18th for the sequel, The Crown of Embers, to release!

My Literary Achilles’ Heel

During our lunch break at the ALAN conference this past November, my friends and I were discussing which breakout session to attend.  There was quite a bit of debate, because much of our decision was based on which authors we wanted to listen to.  I was originally planning on attending the session about Chicago as a setting in YA, but I didn’t for two reasons.  One reason was that our lunch took FOREVER (that poor restaurant was packed and understaffed), but the other reason was because of something Donalyn Miller said.  She of course wanted to listen to Chris Crutcher and Matt de la Peña (and who wouldn’t?!), but her primary reason for attending was because sports fiction is her Achilles’ heel.  This  really made me think because I know which genres are my least favorite, but I never thought about putting a name to it (Thank you, Donalyn!).

I’m bringing this post up because it’s been on my mind, but now even more so after winning my Teacher of the Year award.  I received a $500 check to use in my classroom, and I’m thinking about spending it on books–real predictable, right? 😉  On Thursday I told my students about it and asked them for their input on how I should spend the money.  We all agreed that a spinning book rack would be great because we could display books according to genre.  That’s easy enough, and something I’ve wanted to purchase for a while, but then I started thinking about my literary Achilles’ heel again.  I love contemporary fiction and plenty of the paranormal fiction that’s been released, although I’ll admit I’m getting worn out trying to keep up with so many series, but that’s another post altogether.  I know I could be better about reading more sports fiction, but I think I’m doing alright, especially now that one of my YA Lit students keeps reading them before me and recommending them.  Plus I love Chris Crutcher’s novels and couldn’t get enough of Geoff Herbach’s Stupid Fast, just as a couple examples.  I’ve been beefing up my knowledge of graphic novels, and in the process I’ve found that I really enjoy them.  I love novels in verse, so that part of my library is ever expanding, even though I know that’s not a genre of YA.  My greatest Achilles’ heel is high fantasy and science fiction.

I grew up loving fantasy.  I remember reading every unicorn book I could find when I was in elementary and middle school.  The Bunnicula books, even though those aren’t exactly fantasy, were some of my favorites.  I tried reading The Hobbit in 6th grade, and even though I didn’t finish it, I remember really enjoying it.  I could picture the setting and the characters easily.  In high school my dad handed me a copy of The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart.  I couldn’t get enough of that book!  I was over the moon in 10th grade when we started our King Arthur unit.  I wrote my essay on the Lady of the Lake and actually enjoyed doing the research (I didn’t enjoy the research involved for my Oliver Wendell Holmes essay in 11th grade–I had no choice in my author assignment).  So why do I struggle now to enjoy high fantasy novels?  I read Graceling by Kristin Cashore and adored it.  I tried reading the companion, Fire, but even though I’ve tried reading it twice now, I can’t stick with it.  I am looking forward to the release of Bitterblue.  I tried the first in The Heir Chronicles by Cinda Williams Chima, but that was really a struggle.  I have no desire to finish the series, but I do have all the books in my class library.  I’ve heard great things about the Seven Realms series, so I’m thinking about trying that.  My students requested that I buy the rest of the Eragon series, which I did yesterday, but even those I don’t really care for.  I might not like Eragon because I saw the movie first, but I still don’t know if I want to read them.

 Science fiction has never been a genre that I enjoy reading.  I read Insignia by S.J. Kincaid (releases in July 2012–review coming closer to the release date) and loved it.  It’s about gaming and virtual reality, so I’d qualify it as science fiction.  I read Tempest by Julie Cross, and even though there are some plot points that I didn’t like, I enjoyed reading the novel overall.  The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness could be seen as dystopian, but I also look at it as science fiction because it takes place on a different planet, much like Beth Revis’s Across the Universe and A Million Suns.  I’m not sure what I’m missing in this genre.  I’ve obviously enjoyed a few novels that fit within in, so why don’t I find myself reading more novels in this genre?

I’m writing about all of this because I feel like I’m letting my students down, in particular the students who do enjoy reading these genres.  I have a few titles that I can discuss with them and recommend, but I don’t have enough to feel like I’m doing a good enough job.  Does anyone else feel like this?  What’s your literary Achilles’ heel?  And if you love these genres, please leave me some recommendations!  I have that money to spend, so I want to buy some worthy YA titles in each genre to provide for my students.  And since I don’t have that much going on this weekend (FINALLY!), I think I’m going to break out of my comfort zone and try reading one or two.  So please, if you have any recommendations, or if you feel the same way I do about these genres or others, leave me a comment 🙂

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