Fire by Kristin Cashore
Fire, Graceling's prequel-ish companion book, takes place across the mountains to the east of the seven kingdoms, in a rocky, war-torn land called the Dells.
Beautiful creatures called monsters live in the Dells. Monsters have the shape of normal animals: mountain lions, dragonflies, horses, fish. But the hair or scales or feathers of monsters are gorgeously colored-- fuchsia, turquoise, sparkly bronze, iridescent green-- and their minds have the power to control the minds of humans.
Seventeen-year-old Fire is the last remaining human-shaped monster in the Dells. Gorgeously monstrous in body and mind but with a human appreciation of right and wrong, she is hated and mistrusted by just about everyone, and this book is her story.
Wondering what makes it a companion book/prequel? Fire takes place 30-some years before Graceling and has one cross-over character with Graceling, a small boy with strange two-colored eyes who comes from no-one-knows-where, and who has a peculiar ability that Graceling readers will find familiar and disturbing...
Fire, a human monster mostly distrusted because of her ability to enter the minds of others and influence them, is asked to leave her secluded life in the northern wilderness of Dell and travel to the King's City to help the royal family uncover the plots of power-hungry men who would divide the kingdom with war. Fire must find where the boundaries of her abilities lie and just how far she is willing to go to use them. She must also navigate through the complicated relationships in her life, with her longtime friend and lover, Archer; the young King Nash, often overcome by his emotions and desires; the determined and noble Prince Brigan; and her own father, who was cruel and violent to everyone else but showed his small tendernesses to his monster daughter.
This book was just as good, if not better in some ways, than the first book, Graceling. It is a complex story that highlights a lot of contradictions and difficulties in human relationships. First is Fire's relationship with herself. As an exquisitely beautiful woman, her beauty is more a burden to her than anything else. People are either driven to mindless desire or utter rage by it, and her ability to enter the minds of others through cracks in their emotions only causes more distrust of her. Fire must find where the boundaries lie between good and evil with the use of her abilities and figure out where she stands with her beliefs as she is asked to help a breaking nation. Can some things done in the name of good be bad?
Fire's relationship with her father is also a central part of the story. Cansrel was a vicious monster adviser to the previous king, Nax, who used his mental powers to drive the weak king to lush extravagance and cruelty. It is largely his doing that the kingdom of Dell is in its current state. Fire acts in response to her relationship with her father, not wanting to become him and also wanting to make up for who he was.
I liked that the characters in this book were flawed, complex beings. Fire, and we as readers, love many of the people in this book despite seeing their cracks and weaknesses. Archer is a complicated man, and Cashore did a good job of revealing his layers through out the book. Cansrel, Fire's manipulative father, was a monster in every sense of the word to everyone else, but through Fire we see that he did show her kindness and love as much as he was capable of. Does that negate his evilness? Or just make him more complex and human?
I will admit, though, that at times Fire confused me. She didn't act as I would myself, or as I thought she might. Through the changing and evolving process, Fire reacts to events late in the book in ways that I wouldn't have expected. Sometimes it took awhile before Cashore explained the reasoning for some of these behaviors. It all made sense in the end, but sometimes I had to wait and suspend my understanding until the explanation was revealed.
The story revealed itself at a nice pace for me. A few of my friends mentioned that they thought the beginning was a bit slow, but I really didn't mind it. The characters felt complete and the plot was satisfyingly romantic and intense as Fire got more involved in the war effort. I must also say that one of the pleasant things about this book was that the romance wasn't typical. I am a romantic, I'll admit, and love to get the butterflies in my stomach, but I am so sick of books where 'getting the guy to trust/love/admit he loves you' is the central storyline or purpose of the character. The romance in this book is very sweet and tender and natural, but it doesn't get in the way of the ultimate plot. It doesn't try to take over as the main concern when there are more important things going on. The love that develops between the two characters serves to enhance the plot and weaves nicely into it.
5/5 stars. I'm not obsessed with it, but I'm definitely going to tell all of my friends about it. It's an excellent and exciting read with plenty of romance and adventure. Cashore has done an amazing job and I can't wait to read Bitterblue, which should come out sometime next year.
Violence: plenty of violence and action, but none excessively gory or brutal.
Drugs and Alcohol: None
Sexuality: referred to through out, but never in detail and always respectfully done.
Reviewed by Julie