Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Prepare to Burn Through This One

The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Fantasy is a peculiar genre, full of worlds completely different from our own to worlds similar to ours, but just different enough to be mysterious. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson shows a world where both the characters and the reader will be in for a few surprises.

Elisa has married the king of the nearby kingdom, but she knows she was second choice in a necessary deal to form an alliance between the two kingdoms. Surely her beautiful and graceful sister was the first choice, but Elisa is the Bearer of the Godstone. Elisa bears the Godstone in her belly as this century's bearer. Only one bearer comes every four generations, and they must live up to the prophecy of great importance. Unfortunately, frumpy Elisa feels anything but important.

She settles into the new kingdom uneasily, especially when she find she must keep her marriage and the Godstone a secret. The Godstone is a source of great power, and for her protection, no one must know of it. When she is kidnapped and dragged into the desert for a life or death journey, Elisa begins to understand just how much faith people put in the Bearer of the Godstone, even if the bearer is a simple girl who has never done anything heroic. Once she reaches the end of their journey, Elisa not only sympathizes with her captors, she realizes her new husband has abandoned them to the incoming army in an attempt to save the rest of the kingdom. Spurned by the long trek which has strengthened her resolve along with her body, Elisa tries to help them by developing a plan. While their numbers are far fewer than the incoming enemy, they find ways to attack and still live to attack another day. Their efforts are successful, but the enemy possesses an impenetrable ally- the animagi. The animagi are sorcerers who have found a way to harness the power of previous bearer's Godstones. With the animagi helping the enemy's army, Elisa and her new kingdom are sure to lose... unless they can find a bit of their own magic.

This was a superb fantasy that flirts with the mystical and magical without falling into it face first. Very similar in style to Kristin Cashore's Graceling, this story is the perfect blend of history and fantasy to appeal to a wide range of people. It is a very serious book with great losses to the main character Elisa, but that is to be expected during a time of war. Elisa is a fascinating character who transforms throughout the book from a frumpy, insecure teenager to a strong, commanding woman who will risk everything to save innocent people. She is that hero we all love who doesn't really understand how important they are and how much they can achieve. The reluctant hero is one who can inspire the masses!

Being such a serious book, I would suggest this story for junior high students as long as they have the stamina and interest to make it through a 400+ page book. It would probably have more success with high school students, and it may be perfect for that student who rarely reads fantasy, since the mysticism is relatively contained. The story is certainly engrossing, and appropriate for most ages. There is some violence, but nothing gratuitous. I can see this book as a great means to get a reluctant reader going- exciting, interesting, and only the beginning with a trilogy in the works!

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