This is a terrible horror story, possibly not one you want to hear. If you wish to continue, please make sure to sit down before you do so.
One fateful day, I was browsing in the teens’ section of the library. Why? Because I was out of books to read.
DUN DUN DUN *dramatic gasp*
(That was the part where you scream in terror. Let’s try that again.)
ANYWAY, I had finished all the books from the normal authors I read, and the new books hadn’t gotten into the library yet. Now, I’m too old to stay in the kids’ section, because my interests had suddenly hit a new level. Therefore, I found myself in the teens’ section, browsing through titles of books written by authors I’d never heard of.
So, of course, the most interesting titles jumped out at me. Incarceron, Crown of Embers, Obsidian Mirror…the list goes on. I had pulled a few to take a look at, when I found Crown of Embers. Now, this book is the second in what I assume is a trilogy, so I pulled out the first one, Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. As I must with every book, I opened the front cover to read the provided summary:
Elisa is the chosen one.
But she is also the younger of two princesses. The one who has never done anything remarkable, and can’t see how she ever will.
Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king – a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs her to be the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.
And he’s not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies, seething with dark magic, are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior, and he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.
Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.
Most of the chosen do.
From start to finish, this book captivated me. Telling the story of a girl overshadowed by her perfect older sister, Alodia, Rae Carson presents her thoughts and viewpoints, her insecurities and doubts. This book shows how a girl who once lingered at the back of the hall during a grand procession now steps up to take authority, whether she wants to or not, and how she strives to prove herself to the people around her who think her incompetent. It shows her faith that everything will turn out okay by the will of God (and while I’m not a firm believer in any monotheism, it’s still belief in a higher power); it also portrays how she, who once didn’t pay attention to those around her, suddenly realizes how much is on her shoulders and starts acting for her citizens, the ones who depend on her to help them.
Girl of Fire and Thorns is set in a country on the brink of war with those who wield a deadly destruction magic. Elisa is the only one with the power to combat it, but she has no idea how to use her power. While normally I am not a fan of books that are set in war, because it becomes a little tedious for me, this one was perfect. Throwing us right into the midst of battle, Carson doesn’t induce political war so much as a secret one. Elisa and her Malficio terrorize behind the scenes, not on the front lines. No complicated strategy or misunderstood context needed.
This book, again, was going much into religion, because much of the action done was by the “will of God.” Throughout the book, many characters claim to be doing something “by God’s will,” and Elisa constantly questions who has the authority to do that. Is it the one that controls the magic of the dead? The guardians of the chosen one? Or is it God’s living chosen herself? Most of the book happens because of such faith in God and God’s will. Praying, traveling, running into danger and certain death head-on…the list goes on. Once I might have disliked it, but now I can see how beautifully it ties into the plot line and the theme.
Finally, we make it to the romance. Now, let it be known that I strongly dislike romance. It’s just too sappy and emotional for me. If you like it, go ahead, that’s fine with me. I have friends who love romance novels. I just can’t find it very good, even if the story was very well written. There are a few exceptions I’ve made, however, if one were to combine romance with fantasy, as I explained in The Mortal Instruments – City Of Bones. This book does have a great deal of romance in it, from secondary character bonds to Elisa’s relationship with others. It tied well enough into the plot that I was okay with it, even if it dulled the experience a little for me (although it redeemed itself in the second book). By the second book, though, there comes some 12+ year-old material. Despite that, by then Elisa’s inner turmoil actually made sense and contributed to the plot, unlike in the first book where it was just a side note. In the first book, no real action was made out of love, unlike in the second book where it drove almost every action and motivated the course of events that was implied to happen in the third book.
On the morning of day four, the jungle goes silent. It happens so suddenly, so profoundly, that I peer around the curtain, expecting to find that God has whisked us to another time and place. But the silk-cotton trees still look above me, their dark buttresses impenetrable in the filtered light. The same palm fronds twist desperately around them, seeking sunlight.
Two carriages ahead, Lord Hector drops from the roof to the ground, sword in hand.
Our procession has been large and clamorous with its carriage wheels, snorting horses, and clanking armor. Yet the jungle never saw fit to honor us with silent fear. Beside me, Lady Aneaxi mutters in prayer.
Then, far away at first, a drumbeat sounds. I can’t pinpoint its direction, but the echoing thrum makes a cavern of my chest. It thunders again, closer.
The carriage jerks to a stop.
Alejandro’s guard has acted on instinct. They sensed danger and stopped the procession to establish a perimeter defense. The foliage hugs our path; were I to reach from the carriage window, my fingertips could flutter the drooping palm leaves. An unseen enemy could spear me just as easily.
… (I skipped a part here for more action)
With my free hand, I trace the line of the trapdoor until I can finger the latch. The thought of leaving the carriage frightens me, and I envision the three of us smacking the ground. I hope Aneaxi is right, that there is little danger.
The drums beat faster now, louder. My shoulder crashes into a bench as the carriage heaves. I don’t dare life myself to peer out the window, but I hope we’ve reached the clearing. I hear running footsteps and Lord Hector’s muffled orders, then the metal-scraping-metal sound of drawn steel.
Something thinks against the carriage. And again. Soon it’s like a rain of stones cracking against wooden walls. I hear a thud against the wall near my head. The shining black point of an arrowhead pokes through, a mere handsbreadth from my nose. My skin burns. The air is too hot, too stifling to breathe.
The paneling beneath my palms feels sun warmed. Too warm. The acrid scent of burning wood tingles in my nose.
Aneaxi whimpers, “Fire!”
Thank you to those of you who read this far. It takes a lot of patience to read such a long post.
Overall, I would rate this book a 4.3 out of 5. Putting together the themes shows the struggle of a teenage girl trying to assume order in her country, learning to step up and be the leader everyone wants her to be and living up to the expectations of those around her. The religion and romance tied into the plot, which centered more on individual adventure than general warfare. I almost gave it a 5, if not for the romance, which was too overrated in the first book; better to have let that happen in the second and just leave it out of the first book altogether. ANYWAY, I really enjoyed that book and definitely recommend it. 🙂