Monday, May 17, 2010

Fire by Kristin Cashore

Title: Fire
Genre: YA Fantasy
Target Audience: Older teens and adults (violence, sexual and dark themes)
Number of Pages: Hardcover - 480 pages

To the east of the lands in Graceling resides a kingdom called the Dells, a place where colorful monster animals roam among the normal ones. Monster animals can be distinguished by their vivid, dazzling colors; “A dappled gray horse in the Dells was a horse. A sunset orange horse was a monster.”  Though gifted with a terrible beauty, monsters are vicious and crave the flesh of both humans and other monsters, making them dangerous, feared foes of the citizens. Seventeen-year-old Fire, who has the ability to control minds and shock others with her impossible beauty, is the last human monster in the Dells. Easily identified by her flaming red hair, Fire experiences a tough childhood as a monster; she is equally loved and hated by the people, and her abilities terrify everyone.

Meanwhile, King Nash attempts to maintain his rickety rule over the Dells, while furtive rebel lords raise personal armies to unseat him and claim the throne. The land is teeming with bands of robbers and mysterious thieves, and nobody is safe. With war looming on the horizon, the royal family bestows Fire with the duty of uncovering a conspiracy to kill the king, by using her mental abilities to their advantage.  Along the way, Fire must face additional challenges including the quest for the approval and then heart of the prince, the problems that come with loving her late father, who was once the most hated man in the Dells, and facing the numerous people who believe that she is as cruel as he was.

Though this book is often called the prequel of Graceling, it's more of a companion novel, taking place in the same world though in a different land. Save for one important villain, Fire has an entirely different ensemble of characters than Graceling.  When I picked it up at the library, I expected to read some half-thought out prequel that would feed off the success and popularity of Graceling. However, instead of being a weak and watery novel, Fire is something else entirely; it would be extraordinary even if Graceling never existed. After a slow beginning, the pace speeds up as Cashore hurls readers into a fantastical world, where she spins an intricate story riddled with side plots. This book is marinated with medieval politics, and Cashore manages to portray the darker side of the court in an engaging manner.  It seems as though Cashore’s writing has improved since Graceling, though she still successfully manages to add tasteful details to the plot without tripping the fast-paced momentum.  

A vast array of characters, Cashore forgets about no one, giving personalities to a variety of people including the guards, maids, princes, soldiers, and even the horses. Fire, the protagonist with crimson hair, is extremely likeable; she is gentle, tough, independent, has good morals, and would never to flaunt her unwanted beauty. However, she seems ruled by her situations and her reactions rather than by her true personality; Cashore could have elaborated on her character a lot further. One of the most intriguing parts of this book was the relationship between Fire and her monster father Cansrel, who was once the most heartless person in the Dells before his death. Though Cansrel was a cruel, rabid murderer and rapist who basked in destruction, he truly loved his daughter. Fire loved and hated him at the same time, and her conflicting emotions fuel part of the story. Cashore exquisitely executes Fire’s haunting memories, using them to tell the tale of Cansrel, and though he is dead before the book begins, he is an artfully developed character. Later in the novel, a shocking secret about their relationship is revealed, thrusting Fire’s character and the reason for her motives into an entirely different light.

Leck, the only character also starring in Graceling, is an unnervingly creepy child, and as disturbed as I imagined him to be, complete with his two eerily different Graceling eyes. Fans of his role as king in Graceling may be disappointed to learn that he is not the main villain, though he does serve as a pivotal character for the plot. With such a cold demeanor, he mirrors a young Cansrel.

I was not partial to the romance between Fire and prince Brigan, since their relationship unfurled too quickly; they abruptly go from mortal enemies, to awkward, tentative friends, to lovers, without time to develop in between the stages. Prince Brigan was absent from the palace and the plot for the majority of the time, and I wish he could extended his stay in the pages.

Fire, though an individually strong novel, shares many aspects to its companion novel Graceling. For example, both books have similar female protagonists who yield an enormous amount of power; for Graceling’s Katsa, it is the ability to kill, and for Fire, it is ability to control minds. I often wonder which heroine would be victorious if the two ever battled, because they are both equally powerful in different ways and are weak where the other is strong. These two novels also focus on the humanizing of the protagonist and her inner journey on coming to terms with her own power, a hazardous journey, and a royal romance. Despite being similar, these books are very solid novels that will immerse you in their separate fantastical worlds. It should be kept in mind, that Fire is a lot darker than Graceling; it is full of rape, violance, and lust. Since these two novels are two similar, in my head, I can almost hear them demanding to be compared. Overall, though Fire is sensational, I prefer Graceling because its backbone consists of a strong, more character-driven plot, and it contains more action. I yearn for this duo on my bookshelf, along with Bitterblue, which is due in 2011. 

Overall, Fire is an astoundingly brilliant novel that is a seven course meal, since it consists of everything a book lover’s heart could desire: vexing mystery, romance, action, violence, intriguing characters, mythical places, and a layered plot that meanders into unexpected places. I would reccomend reading Graceling first, since that is the order it was published.

Cover (US Hardcover Edition): 4/5 - Though in fashion with Graceling, with the cover depicting a weapon and a gradient of one color, I prefer the cover of Fire. Though slightly mediocre amidst jungle of the bookstore, this cover is artfully designed, and pretty despite being a tad bit bland. There seems to be something sinister and mysterious lurking beneath the layers of crimson, caputuring the mood of this novel. My only complaint is that the bow on the cover pertains to Archer, Fire's friend, more than it pertains to Fire herself.

4 hoots

Source: School library and friendly librarian :).
 For a review of Graceling, click HERE


  1. Very well thought out review! I think that I actually enjoyed Fire more than Graceling, but I understand a lot of your points. Now I want to go and reread them!

  2. Thank you! I want to reread them too :)

  3. This has to be the best book/series I have read in a long long time. I thought Graceling was fantastic and this book equaled it and took it to another level. Before I even had the time to place it in my B&N Library and mark it as the one I'm currently reading I had this book read. The story is so real and the characters are so alive that you feel like you are right there in the story with them. Her style of writing is so easy to read and the story just flows. There are never any slow or boring parts to this book and never any wasted words as a fill in.