The Girl of Fire and Thorns is Princess Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza of Orovalle, soon to be Queen Lucero-Elisa de Vega né Riqueza of Joya d'Arena, and familiarly known as Elisa. We meet her on her wedding day, when she is to be married to King Alejandro de Vega of Joya d'Arena. It's a political match, naturally; she's given in exchange for an alliance and protection from the invading forces of Invierne.
And while the names and titles sound impressive, Elisa is actually the fat, awkward second daughter of the king of Orovalle. But she's also the chosen one of her generation: on her naming day, as a baby, a stream of light from the heavens bestowed on her a Godstone, a blue gem embedded in her navel. A child is chosen in this way every hundred years, destined to complete some great service to his or her people.
So Elisa is an unlikely heroine, about to undertake her heroine's journey in this book. And she is a heroine, though she doesn't always feel it: strong, intelligent, morally and spiritually aware, but not afraid to question. She is a leader of others; a true queen.
I enjoyed both the story and the setting. Author Rae Carson builds a world that is both strange and familiar. It's earthlike, but there is just a bit of magic, and it's made clear that this is not the first world that these people have lived on. There are references to the old world that died before God brought them here. It's also a pre-modern world -- people ride horses and camels and fight (mostly) with swords and arrows and spears.
The story moved along at a good pace and never went quite where I expected it to, especially in terms of romance.
Spirituality is an important part of Elisa's life. Neither she nor anyone else in the story ever questions the existence of God. After all, he put the stone in her belly, right in front of everyone! And she senses God through the stone when she prays or when she is involved in worship. However, Elisa does have questions about God's will and God's purpose for her. She wonders why everyone, both friend and enemy, has a different interpretation of God's will. And she wonders whether all of the killing she and her people have to do is worth it, even if it is done to protect others.
Elisa doesn't resolve these questions. She completes her mission to protect the people of Joya d'Arena and Orovalle, but people do die. And I had other unanswered questions after reading the book -- like where did the people of this world originally come from? Their religious practices do have things in common with Christianity. For instance, Elisa prays something called the Glorifica, which is similar to Mary's Magnificat (and it's entirely fitting for Elisa):
My soul glorifies God; let it rejoice in my SaviorFor he has been mindful of his humble servantBlessed am I among generationsFor he lifted me from the dying world...
There's also a ceremony similar to a communion service in which people are pricked with the thorn of a rose instead of receiving communion bread (hence the thorns of the title, I suppose). Aside from these elements (and the priests and monasteries which are also in the story), there are no overt references to Christ or Christianity. So I'm interested in seeing whether anything else will develop in future books (this is apparently the first of at least 3 books).
I'd have to say this one is my favorite of the Morris finalists so far. I've got one more to read -- Under the Mesquite.