Kristin Cashore – Fire

Fire’s exceptional beauty gives her influence and power. People who are susceptible to it will do anything for her attention, and for her affection.

But beauty is only skin deep, and beneath it Fire has a human appreciation of right and wrong. Aware of her ability to influence others, and afraid of it, she lives in a corner of the world away from people – not only to protect them but also to protect herself from their attention, their distrust, and even their hatred.

Yet Fire is not the only danger to the Dells. If she wants to protect her home, if she wants a chance to undo the wrongs of the past, she must face her fears, her abilities, and a royal court full of powerful people with reason to distrust her.

Kristin Cashore’s Graceling was one of the first YA novels I read back in 2010. I was very taken with it and when I came across Fire in London last year, I snapped it up. And then it sat in the humongous TBR-pile for a few months. But when I finally started Fire I raced through it in a day and a half. Needless to say, I really loved the book. While I knew Fire wasn’t so much a sequel to Graceling, as a companion novel set in the same world, it did take me reading the blurb for Bitterblue – the third book in this sequence – to figure out that Fire is actually chronologically set before the events in Graceling by quite some years. This is probably due to reading the books so far apart, but I thought it worth mentioning just the same.

Despite being set in the same world as Graceling, Fire‘s surroundings are far different from that of Graceling. The world building is far different as where Graceling plays out across different countries; Fire is set in just the one, The Dells, with mention of a neighbouring country of Pikkia. These two countries are isolated from the territories featured in Graceling by huge mountain ranges and because of this contact with and knowledge of these countries are limited. This does explain the lack of knowledge about Graces and what they can do, but I was still a little puzzled that while they have human monsters, they don’t seem to have Gracelings. In all this time there must have been some mixing of blood and DNA, so Graces can’t be unheard of, can they? Or are Graces and Monstrosity (that’s actually my term, not Cashore’s) caused by something in the environment? These questions go unanswered, but probably are more a case of me thinking too much about it, than something that disrupts the narrative. The idea of the monsters, however, is fantastic. Monsters in Fire are creatures which are (literally) mesmerizingly beautiful and because of that often are mortally dangerous. And there are monster versions of everything, raptors, cheetahs, kittens, even humans. Our protagonist, Fire, is such a human monster and it’s easy to see why her powers would be feared by ‘normal’ humans, especially given the history of her evil father. But Fire isn’t her father and only uses her powers when she has to, which shows that humans at least can control the glamour they cast.

Fire’s story is one of learning to trust yourself; Fire is terrified of becoming like her father and for that reason only uses her powers in self-defence, when she needs to, which unfortunately is more often than she’d wish, despite her living isolated on her country estate. I adored Fire and her journey during the novel. She does learn to trust herself and her intentions and she learns to use her powers in a balanced way, not just for self-defence, but always for the greater good. Of course there is a love triangle in the novel, which never really is a triangle, except in Archer’s opinion. Archer is Fire’s neighbour and close companion since childhood. They’re best friends, but Archer wants more and sees Fire as his soul mate. Every time the subject came up, Archer changed from a decent bloke into a whiny, clutching idiot and I really didn’t like the interactions between him and Fire on the subject. Fire’s slow building romance with prince Brigan on the other hand, I loved. I kept rooting for them, especially as Brigan is such a fascinating character, very complex and broody. The villains of the piece were rather less impressive, with the exception of Leck. Leck completely creeped me out! What a nasty little piece of work and given what we know becomes of him, I was sad that nobody actually shot an arrow through his heart.

Fire was far more political in nature than Graceling and while there are big battles, most of the manoeuvring is of the sneaky kind and smaller in scale. The denouement of the plot was very cool and kept me on the edge of my seat. I had a great time with Fire, and for any fans of Ms Cashore this is a must-read book. If you’re unfamiliar with Cashore’s work, Fire is a nice way to get acquainted with it. It’s one of the better YA books I’ve read and I can’t wait for the final book Bitterblue, which is out from Gollancz this May.