I really enjoyed The Girl of Fire and Thorns, so much that I’ve been having a hard time coming up with the words to describe it. The story takes you on an epic journey, with high-stakes adventure, romance, suspense and magical elements. It’s a strong beginning to a new high fantasy series and earns a spot with my favorite fantasy books by Maria V. Snyder and Kristin Cashore. The fearless storytelling and world building kept my interest and I felt like I was right in the center of the action with the protagonist Elisa.Right away the story takes you on a journey, as Elisa leaves home to embark on a new life. The world building is set up skillfully well to show the sights, sounds, political landscape and culinary delights of Joya. The story has a leisurely pace at the beginning to give you the lay of the land before abruptly taking you out of your comfort zone and into a new direction. The visual descriptions of the setting are interesting and made the desert locales come alive. Also, there are religious undertones in the story that naturally work together with the Godstone and the idea of the prophecy to fulfill. I found the religious aspect to be non-intrusive and added dimension to Elisa’s story.Though the story has very successful fantasy elements, the characterization is also well done. There are several supporting characters that add interest to the story. As the book progresses, Elisa gets stronger inside and out and people begin to respond more favorably to her. However, there are a handful of characters that can see Elisa’s value from the very beginning and help to build her self-esteem. It’s interesting to view Elisa’s interactions with those around her and to see her confidence grow.The fantasy, adventure, and smart, strong and unconventional heroine made for an interesting and exciting read that kept my interest throughout. There are surprises and the feeling that anything can happen to these characters that kept me on my toes. I also liked the message behind the story. This is the first book of a trilogy, but the book has a satisfying conclusion on it’s own while leaving Elisa’s path open to new opportunities. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, Crown of Embers, due out in October 2012.