The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae CarsonTeen Fiction

Once per century, the Godstone–a living jewel nestled in the navel—is bestowed upon an unsuspecting infant. This bearer is destined for greatness. Destined to perform an act of service that will better mankind, but he/she has no idea what the act will be. Many bearers don’t live long enough to find out.

Elisa is an overweight and overly-sheltered young princess who is also this century’s bearer. She has spent her first sixteen years eschewing courtly duties in order to study and read. She has never been overly concerned with the art of ruling or the engaging in any sort of politics.

Elisa begins to regret this on her sixteenth birthday when she finds herself secretly married to King Alejandro and on her way to his unstable country. Here Elisa must figure out how to navigate Alejandro’s court and how to be a queen even if it is in secret. When Elisa is kidnapped by a group of desert people (one of whom happens to be kind as well as handsome) who believe she and the Godstone are the key to winning the impending war, Elisa must also decide where her loyalties lie.

It has been a very long time since I felt this way about a book and about a character. There are plenty of admirable and strong female protagonists out there but very few start as vulnerable as Elisa. Even though Celaena from “Throne of Glass” is emaciated and weak from the death camp at the beginning of her book, she can still kill someone seven times before they hit the floor. Elisa starts her journey knowing almost nothing about herself and about her destiny.

The honesty with which Elisa narrates is achingly relatable. She readily sees the negatives about herself and only reluctantly acknowledges her strengths. She worries about what others think of her, she doubts her intelligence, and she assumes that she doesn’t have what it takes to be a good queen. Elisa is an Everywoman.

Beyond creating an incredibly identifiable protagonist and fully realized secondary characters (oh, Humberto, how I love you!), Carson weaves one heck of a story here. The culture is rich, the places are beautifully described, and the food sounds delicious.

If you’re traveling over the holidays, I highly recommend “The Girl of Fire and Thorns” on audio. The narrator Jennifer Ikeda’s performance is part of what made me fall in love with the book. She is everything an audiobook narrator should be.

I heartily recommend both “Throne of Glass” and “The Girl of Fire and Thorns” to all fantasy readers–especially readers who liked “Hunger Games,” “Graceling,” and other books with strong, capable (and sometimes deadly) protagonists.