Published in 2009 by Dial Books, Fire is the second book in Kristin Cashore’s “The Seven Kingdoms” series. Though it is the second book that she has written, it acts as a prologue to her first book, Graceling, taking place years before Leck becomes king of Monsea. It is 480 pages long (hardcover). A good sized book, if you ask me. :D
Fire takes place east of the setting of Graceling, in a warring land called the Dells. As if war wasn’t bad enough, brightly colored animal-like monsters reside there, and have the ability to influence the minds of humans. With hair the color of flame, 17-year-old Fire is the last human monster. Equally hated and adored, she is mistrusted by the people around her, despite her human morals and appreciation of right and wrong. But when she is called to investigate the appearance of spies in the king’s land, she helps to discover a deeper plot; war is coming, and coming much sooner than anyone had anticipated. Can she use her power to save the kingdom without becoming the monster her father was?
At first, I was a little turned off by the idea of monsters, since they were never mentioned in Graceling (or, at least, as far as I can recall). But Cashore’s writing is so solid that I quickly warmed up to the idea and sunk into this imaginary world where the characters are plagued by these oh-so-colorful creatures running about. With that being said, Fire was completely different than Graceling was, and with the exception of one character (Leck) who shows up in both books, the two stories had little to do with each other. Where Graceling was charged with action and personal survival, Fire was charged with emotional drama, which was actually nice for a change of pace. Cashore was smart to create a character completely different than Katsa: Fire’s personality is a mixture of sensitivity, vulnerability, and independence, which blended together nicely, given the situations she faced throughout the book. Blessed, or in Fire’s opinion, cursed, with exquisite beauty, she is constantly bringing out the worst desires and feelings in people, including—more often than not—rape. Sex is big deal and a major theme of this book, one that I think Cashore handled well for the most part, given the difficult nature of that theme in young adult fiction.
Like a good chunk of teen novels out there, this was really a coming of age story. Fire eventually learns that her power isn’t necessarily bad or something to fear, and if wielded in the right way, can be used to help people, especially when they are in pain. At the beginning of the book she is an outcast, hiding beneath headscarves, plagued by daddy-guilt issues. But at the end, she evolves into the fantasy version of Florence Nightingale. Her transformation took a little while to achieve, but came naturally in a way that I found believable. And, better yet, she didn't do it alone. Like Katsa in Graceling, Fire has a support group of friends who are loveable and love her. Cashore’s ability to handle minor characters was very impressive; the King’s family manages to be both endearing and despicable, and even the members of her guard, are unique and memorable. In the end, I wanted the supporting cast to have just as much happiness in their lives as I did Fire.
All-in-all, I loved just about everything in this book, and can officially say I’ve become a Cashore fangirl. I’m really looking forward to when she decides to combine the characters in Graceling and Fire. Maybe in the upcoming book, Bitterblue? One can hope. We’ll have to wait and see.
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