Well, okay, THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS is going to take lot of living up to.
I mean, a) I wish I’d written this book, and
b) I’m not sure I’m going to want to read anything else for a while. What could measure up?
THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS, by Rae Carson, is a YA fantasy. I’ve read lots of those lately. How is this one set apart? Well, let me count the ways.
First, the writing! Which is beautiful and just word-perfect all the way through. Also! This story is written in the first-person present-tense, which is a trick to pull off, not that I haven’t seen it done well before, but it’s not easy to REALLY do well. Carson does it perfectly, so that the prose doesn’t call attention itself at all but just disappears into the story. I didn’t even know you could do that with first-person present-tense. Wow.
Second, the setting! Love it! LOVE it! Sort of a pseudo-Mexico-South-America kind of thing. I have absolutely nothing against ordinary Tolkeinesque or medeival European settings, but all these jungles and deserts are wonderfully exotic. And the culture(s)! This great take on Spanish or Mexican culture! Just a fantastic, unusual setting. Also! Have I EVER read another secondary-world fantasy that used religion as well as it is used here? I don’t think so. Carson’s worked in a religion that’s almost-but-not-quite familiar and just an amazing and beautiful component to the worldbuilding, both integral to the plot AND flawlessly integrated into the setting. My favorite bit:
The bad guy: “This, and the stones of my brothers, will deliver your land into our hands. It is God’s will.”
Elisa: I almost stab him right then. … My hands shake with rage, though I’m not sure who it’s directed at. The Via-Reformas kept me in ignorance according to the will of God. Father Nicandro told me about my heritage for the same reason. Cosme and Humberto kidnapped me to bring about His will. Now, even my enemy presumes to know the mind of God. Alentin assured me that everyone has doubts. But it seems to me that I am the only one without a single idea about what God wants from me.
Elisa’s the main character, of course, and what a great character she is! I can’t even tell you! I would LOVE to quote this bit where Elisa realizes why God chose her to bear the Godstone, right on the second to last page of the book, but I can’t because it’s too good and you should read it yourself. Elisa’s a great character to begin with and then she changes and grows as a person and gets even better.
And the pacing! My goodness, you start to slow down and catch your breath and whammo! Something happens to grab you and pull you forward again. But at the same time you don’t want to rush, right? This is a book to take your time with and savor. And the ending is perfect but not at all pat or deus ex. In fact, fair warning, the death of an important secondary character (I can’t believe Carson DID that!) ensures that too pat an ending is impossible.
I will be watching for Rae Carson’s next book. But if it isn’t a sequel to the first, that’s great! Because though there’s plenty of room for a sequel, this book stands perfectly on its own.