I look forward to the rare occasions when I lose a night’s sleep because I can’t stop turning the pages of a new book … in this case, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (Greenwillow Books). Ms. Carson has created a magnificent heroine who is at once cunning and brave and fearful and lonely. Raised as the second princess in a kingdom of strict religious dissenters, Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza, Princess of Oravalle, has studied—and eaten—her way through her first sixteen years.
A star pupil, she knows the Belleza Guerra (a nifty parallel to Sun Tzu’s Art of War) word by word. Elisa has read the Scriptura Sancta diligently, conferring with her country’s priests, praying to God as naturally as she breathes. Absorbing the grace and strength of her father the King and her sister, his heir, she watches and waits, confused and feeling she will never measure up. God has chosen Elisa to be a Bearer, one of the people throughout history born with a Godstone—in this case implanted in her navel—and a calling to Service.
When Elisa is married at sixteen, sight unseen, to the King of the large country from which her people emigrated, she travels to Joya d’Arina without foreknowledge that she is a crucial pawn in a large and deadly impending war.
It is refreshing to find an empathetic heroine who uses her brain, engages in politics with a sense of duty, responsibility, and chutzpah, and still has sixteen-year-old worries about what people think of the way she looks.
Those looking for a swift-moving adventure story won’t be disappointed. Kidnapping, spying, guerrilla warfare … it’s all there alongside heart-touching romance. Elisa’s Godstone is a prize for which armies will march and sorcerers will commit hateful acts. It is a sign of an accomplished writer that we believe so strongly in her heroine’s abilities to defend her country and her people.
The first volume of a planned trilogy, Ms. Carson’s website says she has just finished volume two, The Crown of Embers, and I am considering wily ways to exhort a reading of the manuscript. Look for The Girl of Fire and Thorns on library and bookstore shelves this September, and try to wait for book two the following year.
—Vicki Palmquist, children’s literature enthusiast
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