by Rae Carson
Lady Elisa is special. She is the bearer of the Godstone, a stone placed in her navel by God which marks her as someone who will perform an important act of service during her lifetime. Elisa loves God and studies constantly to know God’s will for her life. But she has been sheltered, and there are things she doesn’t know about the Godstone. There are enemies that would happily kill her to harness its power, and Lady Elisa is in danger. Now, married to the handsome King Alejandro of Joya d’Arena as the seal to a bargain that will provide troops against the enemies of both countries, Elisa wonders, when will her act of service occur, and will she, like most Godstone bearers, die young?
Before I go on and on about how pleased I am to find a tough, independent, resilient, and overweight protagonist who is also a princess, let me first give an enthusiastic shout out to the author of this phenomenal novel; hello and thank you, Rae Carson (OH-IO)! I feel certain that Ms. Carson is going to be one of those YA novelists from the great state of Ohio who stands arm and arm with other gifted YA writers from this state—Cinda Williams Chima, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Sharon Creech, Angela Johnson, Sharon Draper to name a few—all of whom make me proud to be a Buckeye.
First, let me say that while the synopsis of this book (above) makes it sound like a religious book, I would argue that the religious overtones do not at all come off as overly didactic. In fact, when religion is referenced at all, it comes off as highly generic in nature; faith becomes the greater theme that Lady Elisa deals with. Lady Elisa’s character seems naturally concerned with faith, it suits her—especially at the start of the story when she is married off to a handsome stranger who doesn’t really desire her at all, and she is taken to a strange country. Faith is all she has. Will King Alejandro ever desire her? After all she is very, very fat. Like many of us, when Elisa becomes stressed out, concerned, or simply bored, she eats—and because of this, she is a fat bride. Thus, her self-confidence suffers, at least at first, but her faith and intelligence trump her insecurities and help to make her a formidable future queen against her enemy—the neighboring country Invierne. The dynamic changes Elisa goes through during the action in this novel (and the action and conflict between Joya d’Arena & Invierne is the primary focus of the work) make her perhaps my most favorite female protagonist ever!
The secondary characters in the novel are equally interesting. It’s not hard to see early on that the handsome King Alejandro, who Elisa worries over in the start of the novel is a flake. He is spineless and cannot take a stand, even when it comes to acknowledging his own marriage. Indecisive, adulterous, cowardly, and inexperienced, Alejandro cannot hold a candle to Elisa. Equally as interesting, but not nearly as spineless, are Elisa’s devoted nurse, Ximena, who clearly has a secret past, and the spiteful Cosmé, the handmaiden to her husband’s mistress who seems hell-bent on Elisa’s destruction. But perhaps the most endearing character is Humberto—a humble desert boy who treats Elisa with love and honor, whether she is obese or thin. Who doesn’t love a guy like that?
The writing in the novel is incredibly strong. Unlike many other YA novels that include such disturbing plot twists as arranged marriage, espionage, and war, as this novel does, sensitive situations are dealt with tactfully, and there are absolutely no sexually explicit scenes. The author uses Spanish (or perhaps Italian?) words to add an exotic feel to the narrative, and this, coupled with the fantastic descriptions of deserts and sandstorms made this Ohio native feel like I’ve traveled to lands far away. Each chapter was short and punctuated with enough action and intrigue to keep me on the edge of my seat.
Happily and in her own words, “God is not done with [Elisa] yet”—book two, Crown of Embers is already on the shelves, and I’ve just ordered my copy.