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The Girl of Fire and Thorns  - Rae Carson, Jennifer Ikeda This wasn't a bad book. This was a book I probably would have liked well enough when I was twelve.

Princess Elisa is a pampered princess, basically a nice person but she's always been overshadowed by her older, prettier, thinner, smarter, more ambitious sister. Lazy, spoiled, fat Elisa is in for a rude surprise when she learns that the king of a neighboring country has arrived to marry her. Getting married off like this isn't so shocking per se — Elisa is a princess, born and raised, and she knows how these things work. Of course there are politics behind the match, and her husband, Alejandro, turns out to be a decent enough guy. But when she rides off to her new home, she learns that there are a lot of other things going on that she's been kept unaware of, or maybe just hasn't paid attention to because she never expected she was going to do much of anything important.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns does several things quite well. The first is coming up with a somewhat clever new take on the Chosen One trope. Elisa has a "godstone," a magic gem embedded in her navel since birth. According to the religion of the local countries, this makes her, yup, a Chosen One. But "chosen" for what turns out to be a matter of considerable doctrinal dispute. Elisa finds out that small nuances of scriptural interpretation differ on whether or not she's actually supposed to, and in fact, is expected to, die. The people who think the Chosen One is supposed to die are even willing to help her along towards her fate. Needless to say, she's not too keen on this and rather prefers the "Elisa-does-not-die" interpretation.

The use of religion was another thing the book did well. For people who complain that not enough fantasies treat religion seriously and realistically, this is probably a good book for you. The religion practiced in The Girl of Fire and Thorns is never spelled out precisely, and there is no mention of Jesus, but other than that little omission, it is pretty easily read as a form of Christianity. Complete with rival denominations and scriptural differences and Elisa reacting with shock and disbelief to discover that the "bad guys" worship God and go to church too. And they actually think they're the ones who are right!

This is a low fantasy world that more or less resembles medieval Europe, with small kingdoms locked in border disputes, but the environment is arid desert, and the culture resembles medieval Spain or Portugal somewhat more than the familiar Anglo-Saxon/Norman model. Politics and worldbuilding were not overstated or belabored, but they were definitely there.

Why not more enthusiasm, then? Well, the sophistication of the plotting hit the YA ceiling, and the writing, while decent, mostly emphasized Elisa's emotions and character growth (and admittedly, she does grow considerably) and I'm sorry, girly books are not my thing and this was a girly girly book. I am fine with fantasies starring a female protagonist, but the inner life of a teenage princess wondering if she's too fat for any man to find her desirable is definitely a narrative that is compelling and wonderful for someone who is not me.

Also, the "godstone" is pretty much what the name implies, a deux ex machina at the end.

The writing was fine, the story was fine, but it's aimed at a younger, girlier audience, and I'm not interested in continuing the series.