The Girl of Fire and Thorns is Rae Carson’s first novel and it was nominated for a 2011 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.
It’s about a princess named Elisa who begins the story by getting married off to the widower king of the nearby desert kingdom. She is physically soft, loves pastries and thinks very little of her own worth, comparing herself unfavourably to her older sister, who is the much more royal daughter.
There are three parts to the book. The first part is about Elisa in her new kingdom. She gets kidnapped in the second and then returns in the third. While that was important to her character arc, man, I didn’t like the self-pitying version of the heroine from the opening. She does get herself together and becomes more kickass as the book goes on, but she’s got self-esteem issues throughout, which I find annoying. I mean, it’s good for the story that we see Elisa develop into someone who isn’t looking for other people to solve them for her. I just found her tiresome until she started to figure herself and her role out.
The magic in the book is mostly religious. Elisa has a “godstone” in her navel, which indicates that she’s been chosen by god to do some great task. She prays a lot and talks a lot about god, within the context of a Roman Catholic-esque church. There are schisms within the faith and there’s a lot of disbelief that the enemy kingdoms could possibly have anyone chosen by god. There is a communion-like sacrament in her faith that involves being pricked by a rose’s thorns, and sorcery is seen as a terrible thing to be avoided.
Culturally, the kingdoms are more Spanish influenced that Anglo-Saxon, which is kind of neat. That means there are lots of X-names, and the savages are called Perditos. There’s a Latin-esque classical language and other Plebeyan [sic] ones. It’s not South America, but it’s analogous.
Anyway, it was a pretty good book. The romance worked much better than these things do sometimes. My only real qualm (once Elisa starts figuring herself out) is the anti-climactic nature of the final confrontation, which happens with nameless sorcerors instead of someone you have a real stake in her defeating. Though it does do you the courtesy of giving you a real ending, not a cliff-hanger to the next book, so I can’t fault it too hard.