Next up: “Fire” by Kristin Cashore
This is, as it says on the cover, a companion novel to “Graceling”. As such, there will probably be some spoilers for “Graceling” below.
The story takes place in the same world as “Graceling” but in a different kingdom– the Dells, which is separated from the kingdoms we saw in “Graceling” by a great mountain range. Because of this, there are creatures in the Dells that are not seen elsewhere. They are called ‘monsters’; creatures that look like other animals except that they are unusually colored and supernaturally beautiful. They compel the people who see them, controlling their minds.
The book’s main character is the titular Fire, but it starts out following a man called Larch, and his son Immiker in the kingdom of Monsea. Immiker is Graced with one grey eye and one red… and his Grace is a voice that can compel any who hears it to obey him in thought and deed. He is the boy who will become Leck. After this ominous introduction, the narrative switches to Fire.
Fire is a human monster, the last one in the Dells now that her monster father is dead. As a monster, she must take care in all aspects of her life. For every human who sees her and is enraptured by her beauty, there is another who is enraged by seeing a beautiful thing they cannot possess. As well, monsters crave other monster flesh– so she must hide her vivid hair whenever she goes outside or else face attacks from wild monster animals, attacks that become worse if the scent of her blood is in the air. As well, Fire is always careful with herself, with her ability to enter others’ minds and influence them, so that she will not become a monster in deed, like her father.
The plot of “Fire” involves the troubled political situation in the Dells, where the leadership and society were destabilized (by Fire’s father, in fact). After a man ‘mistakenly’ shoots Fire with an arrow, and then is murdered in his prison cell, Fire and her friend Archer enter the political intrigue. And Fire’s abilities uncover a strange occurrence in the king’s court– men whose minds are oddly, unnaturally blank. Fighting against her nature, and the reactions to it of the people around her, Fire must solve this puzzle and face a threat that perhaps only she, a human monster, can address.
I enjoyed this book much more than “Graceling”. The writing is much more mature and the storytelling more skillful and poignant. The characters are more compelling. And aside from the story, the themes in “Fire” are a great deal more developed, and more mature. “Fire” is partially a commentary of rape culture– men are driven to violence by Fire’s beauty, mad to possess her, or if they cannot do that, to hurt/kill her. Even Fire’s best friend, who can resist the effects of her monstrousness, demonstrates some disturbingly possessive and controlling attitudes toward her.
I really enjoyed Fire’s search for self-determination, her desire to define herself as something separate from her father, her desire to find acknowledgement beyond the awe and hatred her monstrous nature evoked. These desires drive her actions, which put Fire right into the middle of the political intrigues. Her character is so easy to like; she is a very realistic character, for all her supernatural appearance and abilities.
The romance story is also well done, a slow development of respect and admiration between the two characters. I have always liked those stories more than the ‘love at first sight’ sort. And “Fire”s romance is a little reminiscent of “Pride and Prejudice”– they don’t like each other at first but then come to realize each other’s true nature. The resolution of their romance is also interesting, being not the typical love-story ending (although, apparently, this has offended other people’s sensibilities).
The plot, the themes, the characters, and the variety and strengths of the emotions in the book have elevated my opinion of Cashore’s writing. This is a solid book.
Lots of discussion of rape and rape culture. Violence, abuse.