Girl of Fire and Thorns
by Carson, Rae

A fearful sixteen-year-old princess discovers her heroic destiny after being married off to the king of a neighboring country in turmoil and pursued by enemies seething with dark magic.

In 16-year-old Elisa, first-time novelist Carson has created a fascinating and credible heroine who battles her way through her own timidity and self-doubt to discover her abilities to love, lead, and suffer loss without denying her future or her faith. Set in an alternative premodern Iberian- and Christianity-hued Saharan-like world, Elisa's adventures include an arranged marriage, a politically and religiously inspired kidnapping, hand-to-hand combat with knife and wits against men trained for battle, the traumatic death of her beloved, and the care of a six-year-old boy. She, as well as the central drama of this promising series starter, depends on the guidance of the holy gem she carries in her navel: the Godstone, which marks her as one whose service shows forth through history-changing practice as well as belief. Carson presents a thorough theology (complete with holy texts), complex characters, dramatic landscapes, royal courts, and a range of difficulties solved through wisdom rather than accident. Romantic, lush, and thought provoking. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Adventure drags our heroine all over the map of fantasyland while giving her the opportunity to use her smarts.

Elisa—Princess Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza of Orovalle—has been chosen for Service since the day she was born, when a beam of holy light put a Godstone in her navel. She's a devout reader of holy books and is well-versed in the military strategy text Belleza Guerra, but she has been kept in ignorance of world affairs. With no warning, this fat, self-loathing princess is married off to a distant king and is embroiled in political and spiritual intrigue. War is coming, and perhaps only Elisa's Godstone—and knowledge from the Belleza Guerra—can save them. Elisa uses her untried strategic knowledge to always-good effect. With a character so smart that she doesn't have much to learn, body size is stereotypically substituted for character development. Elisa's "mountainous" body shrivels away when she spends a month on forced march eating rat, and thus she is a better person. Still, it's wonderfully refreshing to see a heroine using her brain to win a war rather than strapping on a sword and charging into battle.

Despite the stale fat-to-curvy pattern, compelling world building with a Southern European, pseudo-Christian feel, reminiscent of Naomi Kritzer's Fires of the Faithful (2002), keeps this entry fresh. (Fantasy. 12-14)

Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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