(Cover picture courtesy of A Soul Unsung.)
Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
Elisa has always felt powerless, useless. Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king who needs her to be 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 save his people. And he looks at her in a way no man has ever looked at her before. 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.
At first I hated The Girl of Fire and Thorns, but by the end I actually didn’t mind it. The first 2/3s of the book bored me to tears and I wanted to slap Elisa for being such a wimp, but she acquired a spine in the last third of the book and it seems like Rae Carson’s writing improved. Now I’m left with the question: how was the book overall? Meh, I say. It could have been better, but I think the next book, The Crown of Embers is going to be better than the first.
On one hand, Elisa seems different from your typical YA protagonist. In the beginning she truly is obese. Not just “Oh no I gained 5 pounds!” ‘fat’, but honest-to-goodness obese. It’s a big part of her characterization and we see time and time again her unhealthy relationship with food. However, that’s not the main aspect of her character: Elisa is very intelligent and is very well versed in military tactics that benefit her secret husband, King Alejandro. Also: Alejandro is far from a strong male character; he’s quite a coward, actually.
On the other hand, being stuck in her point of view the whole time is annoying. She walks into obvious traps, both literally and figuratively, and goes through a very predictable character arc when she falls in the hands of the rebels. Yes, I understand that her transformation from self-conscious obese teenager to confident, more healthy woman is very believable in her situation. But it feels too cut-and-dry and has very few hitches. In my experience, such a large transformation is rarely easy, but it feels like Elisa just soars through and becomes the fearless rebel leader with few true difficulties.
The plot only really speeds up after she begins leading the rebels, more than halfway through the book. I don’t mind a slow plot if the author makes up for it in world-building and descriptions, but Rae Carson didn’t really. Her world-building seems thorough enough at a glimpse, but we learn very little about the Godstone, its purpose and the politics of all the regional rivalries in the country. The devil is in the details, I guess.
Still, Rae Carson’s writing seemed to improve in the last third of the book and the ending makes the next one seem promising, if nothing else. So yes, I will still be reading The Crown of Embers. But I will not be buying it.
I give this book 3.5/5 stars.