First impressions: I had a hard time getting into this book. The opening third is slow paced, not very interesting, and Elisa is really down in the dumps. Despite this, however, I wanted to keep reading.
Lasting impressions: It may have started off slow, but by the end I could hardly turn the pages fast enough. I will remember this book for its ability to completely shock me.
Conflicting impressions: Some of the concepts didn't really work for me (a magical stone in her bellybutton? Really?) and I felt the religious aspects drew too much focus.
Overall impressions: One of the first things we learn about our heroine, Elisa, is that she is fat. She is trying to squeeze herself into her wedding gown, and it ends up ripping. She consoles herself with pastries and hopes that her husband-to-be is ugly and old so she doesn't have to feel inferior. It's a refreshing change of pace from most books where the hero/heroine is devastatingly attractive.
What I thought would be a questing fantasy tale about Elisa fulfilling her fate turned out to be more of a book about Elisa finding herself. Throughout the course of the book she discovers that she is more than capable of being a leader - and an inspiring one at that. She becomes a completely different woman by the end of the book with changed attitudes about the world, politics, war, and even love. It's a fascinating journey.
Though the first third of the book is a lot of Elisa moping and worrying about her destiny as the bearer of a Godstone, the story picks up after she is kidnapped. She is stolen away from her new husband's home and dragged across the desert by residents of a war-torn area of the kingdom that is getting little help from Elisa's husband, the king, and as the bearer of the Godstone they are convinced she is the only one who can help them.
The Godstone is a jewel placed by God in Elisa's belly as an infant - a sign that she is the chosen one who will fulfill a Service to God. Elisa is fairly ignorant of all this entails, and as a result, so are we. We don't know what kind of Service this means. We don't know much about past Godstone bearers. All we know is that it responds to prayer and senses enemies. As a result, a LOT of time is spent in prayer, and at times the religious aspects seemed a bit heavy-handed.
Religion is an important player in this story, though. Elisa witnesses many different groups of people use God's will as their reasoning behind opposing actions. She is frustrated that they are hiding behind this in order to justify their actions, but as a religious woman and a bearer, she also struggles to figure out God's will and how it should influence her own actions. This really doesn't get explored beyond the superficial, and I wondered why it wasn't delved into more deeply. I wanted to know how she felt about religion impacting differing groups feeling "right" about their actions and not have her just sort of passively observe it.
Once Elisa gets fully immersed in war and comes into her own, the narrative really picks up. Though we still don't know what she will do to save the day, we suspect that she will, and as more pieces of the puzzle fall into place it's fun to try and anticipate what it will be. Maybe because I was so focused on the end game is why one particular event floored me. There is a SHOCKING scene that I absolutely did not see coming. It was a pleasant surprise in that I always like books that can do things differently but I was saddened by this event because I'm not sure how it served the story. It's the kind of thing that should have rocked Elisa's world a bit more, and when it didn't seem to impact her trajectory or have any more influence on her choices than any other event, it cheapened what happened and made it seem unnecessary and purely for shock value. I'm curious to know what others thought, but try not to spoil it in the comments.
This was an interesting book with lots of unique elements. Rae Carson has an engaging writing style that pulls you along through slow parts and keeps you riveted through fast ones. I think this would be a great book for people interested in personal journeys of self-discovery. This is purely Elisa's story, that happens to take place in a fantasy setting, and this is by no means a book only for fantasy lovers. If you haven't given much fantasy a try, I suggest you start with this one.
Rating: 4/5 stars