As per my last month’s FAR post, I will be looking at book series from the Young Adult Fantasy genre. The first series of young adult fantasy that I will be looking at is Rae Carson’s trilogy The Girl of Fire and Thorns. This series heavily centers around religion, empowerment, and agency. The trilogy explores fanaticism, fate and free choice, and even xenophobia. Also, found amongst its pages are positive female friendships, daring adventures, and yes, a blooming love story.
Rae Carson’s trilogy takes place in a fictional world and follows a 16-year-old princess who is married off to a neighboring kingdom. Princess Lucero-Elisa is chubby and clumsy. She has been somewhat sheltered all her life. She carries something which had not been seen for over one hundred years. She is the “Chosen One,” the “Bearer of a Godstone.” The bearer of a Godstone is selected with God’s favor and is chosen to fulfill prophecy. Throughout the three books, Elisa finds comfort and power from her Godstone but more importantly this series explores Elisa’s journey in finding herself, becoming an excellent leader, and saving the world.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns explores a young lady’s journey in reconciling what she has been taught, what she believes, and what is Her truth. In one scene, taken from the second book, The Crown of Embers, Elisa and Hector, her personal guard and later love interest, are praying to attempt to save the boat they are on. In the middle of her prayer, Hector changes the words of a thousand-year-old prayer to become more powerful: “The champion must not waver…Yea through she passes through the shadow of darkness, she shall not fear, for God’s righteous right hand shall sustain her and give her new life triumphant.” The series, has a female savior, she is a fighter, she is compassionate, and she is smart. Elisa begins to realize that she can change and alter her destiny, her contribution, and bring about God’s plan on her own terms. In the last book, The Bitter Kingdom, Elisa fully believes in herself which she realizes is ultimately where her power comes from. She even states, “I’m beautiful to me.” Such an empowering statement. Elisa becomes more than the savior of her kingdom, she saves herself.
The trilogy explores Elisa’s connection with religion and religious traditions. Growing up she was only given bits and pieces of religion concerning her role as a Bearer. When she travels to her first husband’s kingdom, she starts to visit a monastery devoted to keeping religious history and tradition. It is here that Elisa figures out the epic role she plays in fulfilling the prophecies, recorded by every Bearer before her. It is while reading these scriptures that Elisa discovers that she carries the power to heal. While healing one of her companions, she prays; “For love is more beautiful than rubies, sweeter than honey, finer than the king’s wine. And no one has greater love than he who gives his own life for a friend.” Sounds familiar, like that found in John 15:13: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
This series is very smart in how it crafts its characters and narratives. Elisa shows her strength and courage is not dependent on her gender. Carson writes Elisa as someone that the reader can follow along with and more importantly maybe see themselves in her. Elisa’s early disparaging views on her body, on her worth, and on her quest to finding her place in the world can be anyone’s journey growing up. Carson’s books also provide a moment where readers can see that this girl, this woman is capable of so much. Elisa states, “But I’m not powerless…I have me. I will be enough.” The Girl of Fire and Thorns also provides another space where women are active agents in their religion, and more importantly they are the saviors. Carson weaves a tale between following religious traditions and following one’s own heart. Sometimes they are the same and at other times, different – all are relevant and worthy.
YA fantasy series, much like the majority of literature and art, can transport, elevate, and encourage its consumers. People time and time again go back to the hallowed pages of beloved novels, to find refuge, happiness, and comfort. And now, novels can be a source of finding new religious and spiritual life. A way to imagine the world and sacred place that we long for. I leave you with a prayer sung by Elisa but echoes of the power within us all:
My soul glorifies God; let it rejoice in my Savior for she has been mindful of her humble servant. Blessed am I among generations for they lifted me from the dying world. Yea, with their righteous right hand they lifted me. They have redeemed her people, given them new life abundant. My soul glorifies God; let it rejoice in my Savior.
 Carson, Rae. The Crown of Embers. 333.
 Carson, Rae. The Bitter Kingdom. Place of Publication Not Identified: Greenwillow, 2014. Print. 428.
 Carson, Rae. The Crown of Embers. New York, NY: Greenwillow, 2012. Print. 340.
 Carson, Rae. The Crown of Embers. 391.
 Pronouns have been changed by this author. Carson, Rae. The Girl of Fire and Thorns. New York, NY: Greenwillow, 2012. Print. 85.
Anjeanette LeBoeuf is officially a Ph.D Candidate in Women Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate University! Her focuses are divided between South Asian religions and religion and popular culture. She has become focused on exploring the representations of women in all forms of popular culture and how religion plays into them. She is an avid supporter of both soccer and hockey. She is also a television and movie buff which probably takes way too much of her time, but she enjoys every minute of it. Anjeanette has had a love affair with books from a very young age and always finds time in her demanding academic career to crack open a new book.