Book: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carsons
Synopsis Snippet: Elisa is the Chosen One. She bears the Godstone. She prepares on her 16th birthday to marry for the sake of her country. Who knows what mission God has lain before her as she travels to the King’s palace and into a war on the brink of spilling around her.
The Cast: It was a fun pleasure to read a Fantasy novel where characters with PALE skin are pointed out or emphasized for their differences. The fact that I noticed it so distinctly is really telling on how infrequently that happens. I loved it. So, finally some reversal on racial diversity norms. Also, some characters have DEFINITE tendencies towards FA or at least Body Acceptance which were refreshing.
Romance Aspects: This was a bit strange. Elisa definitely gets a bit of Stockholm syndrome at one point but the plot weaves in such a way that, as a reader, you find yourself falling for the character as well. All the romance here, by the way, was nothing outside the generic cis-hetero stuff.
Language: The writing was easy and usually plot-forwarding. Moments of rather great writing were scattered throughout and there were not many moments that dragged.
Fat treatment: (This section will be long, hold on) Firstly: YAY! A FAT, female, non-white protagonist! In FANTASY! Whoo! Secondly: Ooof. There are also undeniable downsides. Princess Elisa starts as a food-gobbling, insecure, worthless and ugly feeling fatty. She, through plot points, finds herself on basically a starvation-march through the desert for a month. That’s where she (of course) loses weight (you know, as she gains self-respect in her abilities and such it just HAS to follow that she gets slimmer, right?) The few references made to actual sizes of the girl’s body indicate the author has no idea how much weight is capable of being lost, even at such extreme conditions, in a month. Hint: it isn’t THAT much:
“Shaking, I pull the soaking garment against my torso, hold it at shoulder level, let the hem swim in the water. It’s more than huge. it’s a tent of a gown, with armholes that scoop halfway down my rib cage, with extra gathers to allow a bust of mountainous proportion….. I am not even close to thin. Certainly not beautiful like Alodia or Cosme. But I don’t have to part my breast or press into my stomach to see my Godstone.”
Blarg, right? I mean, I love that she floats in the tub after this overly long because she’s “not done being naked” but HATE that it has to ONLY happen when she’s discovered she has a smaller body. Be proud you walked so far in such harsh conditions when you’ve led an otherwise protected palace life, that’s awesome. But enough already with the lost-weight as personal growth already authors!! BUT there are some tenderly sweet moments with some nearly FA proponent characters I loved:
“Don’t worry, Princess.” He nods solemnly toward the gown. “A few weeks of regular food and water will set you right.”
That’s the whole comment. Just the character remarking matter-of-factly that such a rough voyage across the desert was no fun game and their bodies would return to normal (even if normal is FAT) with non-starvation and forced-marching. There are other such moments with this same character that I loved as well.
So, while there are great points: a few characters who are amazingly awesome in how they love Elisa for who she is NO MATTER WHAT SHE LOOKS LIKE, and a moment when Elisa laughs at the young Prince’s innocent and loud declaration “You’re Fat” is powerful, it still has strong hints of the overly-familiar “lose weight as you discover the real you and go from an Emotional Eater to one who eschews food in lieu of seeking ways to help others”. The character supposedly still ends “not-thin” but at one point there is reference to her “taut stomach” so I don’t think the author and I agree much on what “not-thin” might mean. So, I’d caution against reading this hoping it was all love and bunnies and FA.
Review: I liked it. It wasn’t the best story. It was far from the worst story. There are intriguing elements included that I really enjoyed:
- a non-white fat female protagonist who grows into a strong and powerful girl
- a few really wonderful side-characters who love Elisa AS SHE IS throughout the book
- a novel look at meshing religion and magics
- the overall plot-arc of Elisa’s emotional growth
There are elements I didn’t enjoy:
- how the author insists on using weight-loss induced by a month of starvation-travel as another “indicator” of Elisa’s personal journey of growth
- the rather insistent prayer and religious references become a bit much for me
- the politics and intrigue are obviously of such an intricate nature that much more stands to be revealed in future books so you’re left hanging
- the ending wraps up a bit too quickly despite leaving quite a few loose threads to pick up in the next installment
Still, it read fairly quickly for being such a large book and the main arc about Elisa’s coming-of-age was (mostly) worth reading.
Great Quotes: Some awesome tidbits that might get your curiosity going.
““Honor from death,” I snap, “is a myth. Invented by the war torn to make sense of the horrific. If we die, it will be so that others may live. Truly honorable death, the only honorable death, is one that enables life.”
“But with Alejandro, I always dissolve into a pool of weak helplessness. He is a good man, I’m sure of it. And so beautiful as to be dazz-ling. But I don’t like the person I am when I’m around him.”
“God’s will. How many times have I heard someone declare their understanding of this thing I find so indefinable?”
“She looks like a doll, her eyes glassy within a sculpture of frozen contentment, lips slightly parted. Gently, I reach forward and close her eyes with my fingertips, hoping it will make her seem merely asleep. But the stillness of sleep is nothing at all like the stillness of death.”
Final Verdict: I really enjoyed most of the plot arc regarding Elisa’s personal growth. I REALLY wish the author didn’t feel that it HAD to include weight-loss and food-obsession side-plots to complete said journey. It was a mix of interesting and a bit predictable in some spots but was fairly quick to read despite the size due to the plot-moving pace of the language.
So, have you read this yet? Would you now want to? Would you suggest it to someone else?