Monday, September 10, 2012

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (...Again)

A little over a year ago, I was very happily reviewing The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (HarperCollins - Greenwillow) right here. Sometimes, once every 200, 300 books, you hit one that makes you enormously happy because--you think--it has been written especially for you.

Of course, I didn't think that when I first heard of the book, as I noted in that review.

I recently reread The Girl of Fire and Thorns, and a lot of my first impressions held true, but I think I appreciated certain themes more this time around.

For example, at the beginning of the book, Lucero-Elisa is being fitted for a wedding gown, and ripping it. She's sixteen, and she's not a "fit"--for princesses, for her clothes, for her upcoming role as queen of a larger and wealthier country. She bears a Godstone in her belly, religiously significant, but she feels like she's second-best behind her conventionally beautiful older sister, Juana Alodia. When she's sad, emotional, she eats. Delicious things. But not to taste them, always; most often to fill up the empty places inside. She fervently hopes that her husband will be old, fat, ugly, diseased, anything so she can excuse why they might not have to touch--but also, I think, so that she can have a reason to not fit the role(s) that she didn't choose for herself.

Lucero-Elisa's self-esteem issues are deep and vast, but she seems to recognize at least a couple of skills: a hand for embroidery, trilingualism, and an interest in her studies, particularly those about strategy and war. Her new husband arrives--older, but handsome and kind. They achieve a rapport; it turns out that Alejandro needs a thoughtful, loyal friend, and they become the odd couple.

When Elisa and Alejandro leave for Joya d'Arena, where they'll make their home, Elisa discovers that her father and sister might hold more affection for her than she realized, and this resonated with me as the start of a journey where she not only questions the people she loves and who love her, but other sorts of expectations and structures of her world. But it's when the caravan is attacked that Elisa's story really starts to build, I think--when she does unthinkable things, heroic things, to save her servants and king, things she would never have expected. And her Godstone, suddenly, is alive, and even dangerous. It's also where the groundwork is laid in the story for the body as a vessel, its size and shape far less important than the person inside--and additionally, where Elisa begins to question her faith in her god and her Godstone.

And I think that's where my reading diverges from that of some other reviewers (not unexpectedly, perhaps, or unreasonably, because we place so much emphasis on bodies). Elisa is starting to realize that her shape and size don't separate her from others so much as the complicated religious beliefs surrounding the Godstone do. Then, she has to withstand an enormous physical trial in a body that hasn't been in training--which makes her stronger, not insta-skinny. She doesn't stop liking and eating food. She doesn't understand, immediately, though some around her do, that her relative body isn't--and hasn't ever been--a measure of her worth as a person.

I won't spoil the middle--its complicated political plot--but interwoven with adventure is coming of age, a little romance, and rising to the possibility of self. I will sneak in, just at the end, that rereading gave me a different, more open view on the setting and its nuance that I didn't pick up the first time around, and that I got a better sense of some of where problems are laid out for characters to solve in later books, but that's me reading with an editor hat on, not with just my reader eyes.

The next book in the series, The Crown of Embers, comes out on September 18 from Greenwillow.

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