I haven’t read YA in a very long time, and even when I remember reading YA, I think I tried my best to get it done as quickly as possible. I have dim memories of the YA section in the library, usually crowded by girls and boys who were doing things other than reading – they were there for the comfy couches and chairs and the free internet. I do confess to reading the Twilight series and semi-enjoying it, but I think part of my enjoyment came from the fact that if I was reading Twilight, I was not studying for finals. Yay for productive procrastination!
So when people recommended The Girl of Fire and Thorns to me because they knew I liked a strong female protagonist, I was a bit weary. YA fantasy usually involved a princess, a knight, some magic, maybe a dragon or two, with the prince/king/knight saving the day. My impression of YA fantasy was not favorable, until someone reminded me that technically Tamora Pierce’s books (who coincidentally also has a blurb on the cover) are technically considered YA. Huh. I never thought of them as YA.
I hereby apologize to YA fantasy books. I have misjudged you and done what a reader should never do: judge an entire genre based on a few bad experiences. So I resolve to do better, to settle down with a book and get reacquainted with the genre I left behind and didn’t even bother to stay goodbye to.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns starts the Fire and Thorns series. In this book we meet Elisa, the younger princess of Orovalle who gets married to a neighboring country’s king. But that’s not makes her remarkable – what makes her special is the Godstone living in her navel, designating her as God’s chosen, a person who comes along every century or so and is chosen to perform some service for God. And of course, there are those that want her to succeed and those that want her to fail. And the struggle in the first book primarily revolves around Elisa coming to better understand her role as God’s chosen and a fight to keep herself alive from the dark forces that want to kill her.
There were aspects of the book that really really blew me away. Elisa is a wonderfully strong female protagonist, just as promised. She has the inner strength that draws me to characters; she falters, questions, doubts, and then pushes through anyways. The magic system (as far as there is a magic system) is pretty interesting once you get to it, so I definitely enjoyed that. I also very much enjoyed the fact that while Carson blends in enough romance, it is NOT the center of the book. The book is squarely focused on Elisa and her development, away from the males and I absolutely loved that. If she hadn’t blended in romance, I think I wouldn’t have found the characters believable – at the age of sixteen, even if the world hangs on your shoulders, there will be days when you just want to find a good person to fall in love with. The fact that Carson gave Elisa the chance to fall in love but kept her focused on the bigger question is the biggest gold star of the book and the reason that I loved it so much.
That’s not to say that the book was perfection. Some of the side characters seem to be a little flat, but I’m willing to consider that they just weren’t given a lot of time to develop in the book. Occasionally the plot was a bit too predictable, but again, it was the first book in a YA series so perhaps she didn’t want to make anything too weird.
So overall, this was a solid start of a series for me and I will be picking up the rest of the series. Looks like the comfy couches in the YA section and I are going to get better acquainted.