Confessions, first: when I saw the sale announcement for this book, I cringed. It sounded terrible. Like, jaw-droppingly, pass-it-around-to-friends-and-laugh awful.
Then, when I read the first paragraph, I was hooked. And I had to wait and wait and wait to tell people about it.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (HarperCollins - Greenwillow) is set in a Spanish-flavored fantasy world, and Princess Lucero-Elisa is the one person born in every hundred years to bear a Godstone, a blue jewel in her belly about which there are many legends.
Elisa doesn’t know much about the Godstone, and stress and a lack of self-confidence related to her mother’s death and her older sister contributes to Elisa’s tendency to overeat and her preoccupation with her weight. This is one of those things that could go either way with individual readers, but I really identified with Elisa’s image/weight/food issues. It's complicated--she overeats, but she also likes and appreciates food and is a hungry girl. Later in the book, her relationship with food changes against her will, and while she still desires it, she has more of an understanding of food as both fuel and enjoyment, and she’s forced into so much activity that she ends up stronger and slimmer, but muscle-y, not skinny or magically "healed."
Anyway, Elisa has been engaged to Alejandro, the much older king of a neighboring land, in order to cement better relations. When she leaves for her new home, she’s immediately tested--mentally, physically, spiritually--and finds that she’s not only capable of more than she thought, her Godstone may force her to be responsible for more than she thought. When she arrives in Joya D’Arena, Alejandro keeps their marriage secret, tasking her with spying on her peers, which she does...until she’s kidnapped by a fringe group that is already at war on the borders of the kingdom. Elisa’s always loved books on war and strategy, but can she help her captors, and help her king and country? If she can, what price war?
I love this book. It is my fall must-recommend, especially for fans of Kristen Cashore and Tamora Pierce. This is one of the most mature and well-concepted YA fantasies I’ve read in ages. It has a really wonderful, flawed, smart protagonist, struggling with herself in believable fashion as she struggles with things outside herself and how both intersect. There is romance, but it’s not the foreground. It hits a lot of my buttons. It comes out in September.
The cover linkable via Amazon is nice, though I don't like the middle (and only weeks after seeing it have I figured out that that's supposed to be the Godstone, I think); check out the UK edition for one that's a little more evocative of the setting. I suspect that version would have been a no-go in the U.S., and that's a shame.
I read this in advance copy that I stole from a friend.