The Girl of Fire and Thorns is the first book in the Fire and Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson. This young adult fantasy is about a sixteen year old princess name Elisa. Elisa is not just a princess, but also the bearer of a Godstone. Once every century a person is chosen by God to bear the Godstone and carry out a task for the greater good. Elisa has never done anything noteworthy in her life and doubts that she ever will despite being the chosen one. Her lack of self-worth seems to be rooted in her belief that her plus-sized body makes her ugly and unworthy of love or greatness. Then one day she finds out she is to marry as part of a treaty her father has made with a neighboring kingdom, Joya d’Arena. Along with her hand in marriage, her father has promised King Alejandro de Vega that he will provide aid in the oncoming war that is escalating with another neighboring kingdom called Invierne. Upon arrival to her new home, however, Alejandro asks Elisa to help keep their marriage a secret which furthers Elisa’s belief that she is unworthy because of her body. Then plot moves along from there with the help of some political intrigue, spies, secrets, and war.
Before I go into the major reasons why this book did not work for me, let’s talk about what got me interested in reading it. First, I really liked the idea of a main character that was full figured. I don’t see that very often, so when I saw it mentioned in a raving review about this book I knew I had to pick it up. Another plus for me was that the setting was based on the Spanish culture. The names of the characters and places were in Spanish and the religion reminded me a lot of Catholicism. Which although I am not Catholic, I was raised Catholic so it is something I found relatable for me. Add in a magic system that is rooted in faith and I was like hmm…ok this is interesting and different. MUST READ! That said, let’s talk about why I will not be continuing this series and possible not reading anymore work by this author unless you all can convince me otherwise.
In the first 180 pages of this book there is a relentless amount of fat shaming. It is in Elisa’s narrative when she talks about her own body and why she doesn’t think that people like her or find her desirable. It is in how the other women, apart from her lady in waiting and nurse, treat her as if she is insignificant because she is overweight. Elisa compares herself to the thinner female characters in this story and finds herself lacking because of the difference in their bodies. Which ok, I get it. Women of all sizes have self-image issues. I get that and it is perfectly ok to address it in a book if it is done right, but that is not what is happening here. There is a very negative connotation throughout this book in regards to Elisa being overweight in the beginning. Even after she loses some weight midway through the book her weight is still used as a way to determine her beauty and worth as a female. She lost weight, so now she’s beautiful. Now she is respected and considered worthy to be queen. That is the message I’m getting from my experience with this book. This is not something I was prepared to be faced with as a reader since in all the reviews I have read that hype up this series, I did not run into any that point out that this is problematic representation. What kind of message is this story sending to female readers? Not a very good one in my opinion. I’m a plus-sized woman. I don’t think this makes me any less beautiful or worthy of love than a woman who is not full figured. All women are beautiful no matter their shape, color, and age. This is a message that should have been told in this book, especially since this is considered as fantasy with a feminist theme to it. Also, is it too much to ask for a full figured hero/heroine that doesn’t hate their body? I wouldn’t think so, but I have yet to find a book with one.
While on the subject of the whole “I’m thinner and therefore now desirable” theme to this book, was the damn love triangle really necessary?!!! I hate love triangles, I really do. I feel like this is a romantic trope that is overused and frankly has become a bit of a copout in an effort to make books more “swoon-worthy.” It did nothing to further the overall plot line, and I found it distracting from the story. I won’t go into why it didn’t further the plot, because well spoilers. I just found it completely pointless.
The bad representation and love triangle aside, I had some issues with the world building and magic system. The world created feels pretty much normal, there isn’t anything fantastical about it other than a few hints of sorcery. When I pick up a fantasy I have an expectation that there will be loads of world building that I can escape into. I don’t feel like I got enough of that from this book. Which leads into my issues with the magic system. I don’t get it. I feel like this element of the story was not fully developed like the world building. All I could gather from this book is that the magic system revolves around these Godstones and is rooted in faith in God. That’s it. I don’t understand how it works, there really isn’t an explanation either. I think I would have enjoyed this story more if the author had focused less on the weak love triangle and Elisa’s weight, and worked on developing the world and magic system.
Overall, I really struggled with this book. I forced myself to finish guys because it was my January pick for a reading challenge. That is the only reason I continued until the end. It is very rare for me to dislike a book so strongly. I hate it when it happens because I’m left feeling very disappointed. I cannot recommend this book since I personally did not find it enjoyable at all. I’m not going to tell you if you should read it or not. That is your choice. Just know going into it that this is a problematic representation and the overall message about self-image is not a healthy one. This was my first Rae Carson book. I don’t know if I will read anything else by her, but I do know I will not be continuing this series.