Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Insecurity, obesity and other great stuff

Just a little sarcasm in that blog post title. But really, when you take not-so-great-stuff like insecurity and weight issues and put them into a story about overcoming these problems - then it really is great stuff. It made for VERY great stuff in Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson.

I also learned something about myself reading this book (and it's sequel, Crown of Embers).

In Girl of Fire and Thorns, I'm all sorts of worried and invested in Elisa, on her wedding day to a total stranger. She's overweight, insecure and awkward, and has to marry a dreamboat who also happens to be a king of another country. So she's going to have to leave behind everything she's familiar with. And also, this dreamboat king? - he wants to keep their marriage secret, for undisclosed reasons.

Oh man, girl, I'm with you. I'm scared for you, I totally get your insecurities and frustrations, I want to see what happens to you because despite your insecurities, you're going to blow them all away - eventually. I'm dying to see the process of how this happens (maybe I'll learn a thing or two).

So, about what I learned: first of all, I didn't learn how to lose weight. I mean, it's just not practical to get kidnapped by a band of rebels and go on forced march through the desert and get chased by animagus (those guys are scary). All just so you can lose some pounds.

But I did learn that I LOVE to root for an underdog, even an insecure, overweight one.

A lot of stories features underdogs, people who have to overcome seemingly impossible odds in order to succeed. Some stories, like Throne of Glass, by Sarah Maas, feature cocky, sure-of-themselves underdogs. When I read the first sample chapters of Throne of Glass, I was amused by the main character's attitude. She's been pretty much sentenced to death in a salt mine, but she grins and quips at her captors, and doesn't hesitate to remind them she's a world-class assassin.

Then I read the sample chapters for Girl of Fire and Thorns, and Elisa is the exact opposite. She's not confidant. She's not trained to kill, or really trained to do anything but socialize at court events. But there are small hints that she can overcome her insecurities and become a strong leader.

She appealed to me more than the girl in Throne of Glass, because she has much further to go in order to overcome the odds. 

You pretty much know, as insecure as Elisa starts out, that she's going to go through  a major change: lose weight, not let the king get away with keeping their marriage secret, take control of her life, save her city from the animagus that threaten to burn it down.

What keeps you reading is ... how will it happen? How will she change? How will she overcome? One reviewer had a great take on it: a fun riff on the whole 'Chosen One' sort of scenario that we are all so familiar with in fantasy. Rae Carson's story is basically, "What if the Chosen One...sucks?"

I loved that Elena's change from "sucks" to "savior" didn't happen all at once. And in fact in some places she seems to back track instead of making progress.

But that's real life, isn't it? how many of us succeed without some failures (sometimes BIG failures) to teach us?

The middle of the book takes a really drastic, unexpected turn. Forget a sleepy middle; the middle in the story made me sit up in bed and go "whaaa? I didn't see that coming" and trust me, there's even more unexpected twists and turns that keep coming after that one, too.

The book ranks up there with The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley, which is one of my all-time favorite books. If you love books where characters are transformed by harsh circumstances, but still manage to stay themselves, then you'll love this book. 

My ratings:

Characterization: 5 out of 5 stars. Elisa shines, even in her weak moments. Humberto, Alejandro, Rosario: A lot of characters with "o" names, but all uniquely memorable. 

Setting: 4 out of 5 stars. There wasn't anything especially fantastical or unique about the settings, but they felt very real, and I will never forget the sandstorm, or that crack in the cliff that Elisa had to hide in.

Plot: 5 out of 5 stars. Kept me guessing and in a few places, gasping with shock. Other spots made me react with a well-deserved fist-pump/high-five.

Pacing: 5 out of 5 stars. Fantastic pacing. Couldn't put the book down.

Dialogue/Voice: 4 out 5 stars. 

Personal appeal: 5 out of 5 stars. By the second sentence I was hooked, with the mention of the Godstone pulsing in her navel. A  high fantasy with down to earth touches.

Margo's literary scale: where 1 is "merely entertaining", and 5 is "really made me think": 4... so much to think about: where our insecurities come from and how we cover them up. Why some fail, some succeed. Much more. 

What's a book you've read where you learned something about yourself?


  1. I just put this on my TBR list.

    I learn about myself from every book I read.

  2. Sounds interesting. I've got a couple insecure characters floating in my computer, but they never jelled. Good to see some people managed the challenge beautifully. Sounds like TBRs ... but bet they're hardcover.

  3. Sounds like a good one to me. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I too relate more to characters who are not so bold and brash... because who in life is really like that? (And if they are, they're usually not so likeable!) I've heard so much praise for this book and can't wait to pick up a copy!

  5. Oh Margo! You and your awesome reviews. :)
    Not long ago I read "My very Un fairy tale life" and discovered that I don't really like "my traditional fairy tales" being parodied (couldn't find a better way to say that). But I got around it eventually... sort of... lol

  6. Interesting concept! And your line 'a high fantasy with down to earth touches' makes it all the more attractive.

  7. No kidding about not being liked in real life!!! And yet sassy, bold characters are so popular in fiction. I guess because they provide contrast to the insecure moody ones!

  8. I know what you mean about parodies of fairy tales. Now short You Tube parodies can be fun - like all the fun riffs on Star Wars. But a full book devoted as a parody? Nah, not for me. On the other hand, I do love fairy tale retellings that incorporate a surprise twist, but still have that real fairytale "feel"

  9. I got them both at my library! (they're new, but not that new)

  10. yes, Elisa's weight issues gave it a contemporary feel, though the setting was high fantasy

  11. I've heard of the book, but until this post had no idea what it was about. While it's not my kind of book (it was 4 years ago), it does sound good.

    Great review, Margo!

  12. I read and loved this book too! SO refreshing to read about a main character who isn't self-assured, cocky, slim and trim, etc. :)

  13. The weight issue reminded me of a book I read as a child where the chubby girl slims down by the end of the book. At the time I took that to mean that slimming down was the only way a chubby girl could deserve a happy ending--- a rather grim message.

    But it's always nice to have a story's hero that's not perfect. Because some of us are that way in real life. ;)


  14. I've reached for this book at the bookstore a dozen times. Next time I'm going to grab it. Thanks for the nudge.

  15. You've got me thinking, Margo! I'm going to have to retrace my reading list and find out which book(s) revealed something to me about myself. Thanks for posting about this book. I loved your review.


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