A Retelling of The Ugly Duckling? (A Review of Rae Carson’s “The Girl of Fire and Thorns”)

Posted: March 3, 2015 in Book Review, Young Adult

Goodreads.com Description: “Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness. Elisa is the chosen one. But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can’t see how she ever will. Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess. And he’s not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake. Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young. Most of the chosen do.”

My Thoughts:

Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns should be celebrated for its diversity–a Latina main character who was pleasingly plump with a healthy intermingling of Spanish! Un soplo de aire fresco! (A breath of fresh air!)

The Girl of Fire and Thorns could be a retelling of the fable “The Ugly Duckling”. This time the duckling is a sixteen-year-old princess living in an imaginary city/village. I’m guessing Carson set this historical fantasy in Peru–the landscape fits the locations mentioned.

Although this book was not a rapid page-turner, I was thoroughly intrigued by the storyline and the character Lucero-Elisa. Carson did not write the stereotypical princess tale. Instead, she crafted the tale of a ‘duckling’ who had no idea of her strengths. Elisa assumed she was worthless–fat, unintelligent and unworthy of her role as bearer and future queen. I admired her fortitude in the face of adversity. She had plenty of challenges, but she continued to forge ahead. By the end of the tale, Elisa does indeed turn into the swan we all knew was lurking under the surface.

I was not pleased with the main male characters in Carson’s tale. The king was weak and Elisa’s father (also a king) was absent. The supporting cast of boys and men has the potential for great strength. Sadly, these characters either meet an early demise or simply are not developed. I can only assume that Carson’s intent was to encourage young girl’s with a ‘can do’ message of female strength and achievement.

There are wonderful relationships explored in The Girl of Fire and Thorns. Because Elisa is not the typical princess she has great respect for her servants. This respect develops into dynamic friendships–Elisa and Ximena, Elisa and Aneaxi, Elisa and Cosme, and Elisa and Hector.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns could easily stand alone. It came to a conclusion without any lingering questions. It will be interesting to see what awaits Elisa in the next installment. This book should be on a required reading list for high schoolers.

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