Fire by Kristen Cashore
I wrote a review of Kristin Cashore's first novel, Graceling, just two posts ago. If you read that, you a;ready know that I want to live in that book, marry it, and make everyone read it and love it as much as I do. I had an only slightly more mild reaction to Fire, but I still really loved it and got so emotionally invested. Review spoiler alert: I cried a, uh.... fair amount while reading Fire.
Let's start with a little plot summary. Fire is not a sequel to Graceling, it's a companion book. Basically, Fire takes place in the same "world" as Graceling, but over a mountain range to the east in a land called The Dells. The Dells differ from the world of Graceling in one big way: There are no gracelings. Instead, The Dells have monsters; normal animals in basic structure, but with crazy colored fur, feathers, and skin. Oh, and they're all predatory beasts with a thirst for human blood. The people of The Dells have had to adapt to having purple and turquoise leopards coming after them in the forest and polka-dotted raptors swooping down to snatch their babies. And to make things even worse, the monsters are somewhat "graced" in that they charm people with their beauty, luring them out into the open. People become convinced that they must be as close as possible to the beauty of the monsters, and end up getting all kinds of messed up by those sneaky beasts. Needless to say, people are terrified of monsters.
Which is too bad for our main character, Fire, who is the one and only human monster. So how do monster qualities translate to humans? Well in the case of Fire, she is so strikingly beautiful and alluring that if she goes out in public she must cover her hair and dress in mens' clothing - and she STILL gets all kinds of unsolicited attention. Fire's most beautiful quality, and her namesake, is her hair. It's this crazy mess of red curls, with highlights of gold, orange, and even pink. If she takes off her headscarf it is literal pandemonium, from both people and the animal monsters. Fire can also read people's minds, and control their minds and make them do whatever she wants.
When we meet Fire she lives alone on her own estate, but she is just down the road from her best friend/sometimes lovah Archer, and his father (and a surrogate father of sorts to Fire). Fire's own father Cansrel is dead (the circumstances behind his death are sketchy at best, and it's pretty easy to figure out that mystery, making the big reveal kind of lackluster). Fire's dad was a real asshole, and a monster himself. The bummer about monsters is that no matter who they have a baby with, that baby is coming out 100% monster. Cansrel was an advisor to King Nax, and with Nax's nastiness plus Cansrel's passion for using his monster powers for evil, they made The Dells a pretty shitty kingdom to live in.
Fire is determined not to end up like her father, and she hardly ever uses her powers of mind control and insists on staying as covered up as possible at all times.
At the start of the book Nax and Cansrel are dead, and now the kingdom is ruled by Nax's son Nash. Nash is kind of a boob, but he's a harmless. There are also three other royal offspring: Brigan and twins Clara and Garan. There's a complicated mess of a family tree with all these kids, but frankly it's irrelevant to my review.
The kingdom is in a bit of a sorry state, and Fire is called to the castle to use her monster powers to get information out of people, in a hope to aid the army and control any uprisings. She ends up traveling to the castle with Brigan, who is the commander of the King's army. Brigan is a god among his soldiers, and they would all be willing to die for him in battle, or, frankly, in any circumstances.
So Fire is off with Brigan, and her booty call Archer is back in the country. In a total Lizzie Bennet/Mr. Darcy turn of events, Fire and Brigan start off all standoffish and eventually fall for each other. Don't worry about Archer, though. He's a total womanizer and makes his way around women's beds like he's some kind of Clooney.
Like I did with the Graceling review, I'm not going to go into too much more plot detail. Cashore is an expert with elaborate webs of storylines, and I truly think it's more enjoyable to just start reading and get sucked into her addictive world. Spoiler avoiding advice: Don't look up Fire on Wikipedia. They give away EVERYTHING.
I mentioned before that I had a real emotional reaction to this book, and I'd like to touch on that. A big chunk of the book focuses on periods, fertility, and overall womanhood. I mentioned in the Graceling review that Cashore is a great new feminist voice? Well in Fire she makes that voice even louder. Another aspect of Fire's monsterdom is that her powers are significantly multiplied when she's on the rag. She has to walk around with a literal wall of bodyguards around her, or just stay in the house and avoid society altogether. She's also constantly worried about procreating. Fire loves children and wants so badly to have a child of her own, but like I said, no matter what that kid is coming out a monster. Fire despises her monster life, and can't imagine giving that same life to another being, not to mention that she worries the kid would turn out to be evil like her own father.
Fire sees two women very close to her get pregnant (involving some seriously soapy drama), and she is almost completely consumed by jealousy toward them. And yet, she is terrified of becoming pregnant herself, and eventually takes some herbs that make her infertile, which is a relief to her, but also completely heartbreaking. Did I mention that while Fire has to deal with all this heavy stuff, she's only 17?! Jesus H. Macy, that's intense. And it made me cry. A lot.
Because of my own illness, I've had to deal with worrying about fertility and babies since I was 19 - WAY too young to have to deal with those kinds of issues. While reading about Fire's struggles I cried like, gallons of tears on my book and was all, "I KNOW, Fire! I KNOW HOW IT FEEEELS!" It really got to me on a deep, personal, emotional level, and it made me fall even more in love with Kristin Cashore. The way she writes about young women is so honest and not-very-precedented that, again, I want to shout her name from the rooftops and force all young women to read both Fire and Graceling.
Graceling made me want to marry it, and Fire is a wonderful companion book, but while Graceling is is exciting and full of adventure, Fire is more subdued, more character driven. They make beautiful companions, and I cannot recommend both of them highly enough (or did you not get that from my love-crazed rambling reviews?)
Overall Grade: A