>> Sunday, February 03, 2013
It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. In King City, the young King Nash is clinging to the throne, while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. War is coming. And the mountains and forest are filled with spies and thieves. This is where Fire lives, a girl whose beauty is impossibly irresistible and who can control the minds of everyone around her.
I started reading this one without any idea of what it was even about. Add to thit that fantasy is a genre I don't read all that much, and I was completely in the moment, not knowing what to expect. Much as I love romance, It's fun to do that, once in a while. So, if you want to do the same, just go and read it, it's worth it. If you need more convincing, though (or, of course, if you've already read it), carry on!
Fire set in The Dells, a world beset by monsters. All animal species have their monstruous varieties, beings with entrancing colours and even more entrancing mental capabilities. Monsters, you see, can influence minds, even control some of them, and they use this power to lure their victims.
Fire, our protagonist, is a very unique sort of monster: a human one. She's the only one in the Dells, now that her father has died. Unlike her father, who delighted in using his powers, and was the King's advisor (or rather, puppet-master), Fire lives in almost-isolation, and is very reluctant to use her powers, other than to save her own life from mortal danger.
But then men with strange, clouded-over minds start showing up where she lives, and when she and her friend, the local Lord, try to investigate what's going on, she comes to the attention of the new King. Turns out The Dells are in turmoil, with a potential civil war simmering, and the King and his advisors see Fire as the perfect secret weapon. They hope whe will help them prevent a war, or if not, to win it.
This was my introduction to Cashore's novels. It's technically the second book written in the series, but chronologically, it takes place before book 1, Graceling. I'd had recommendations both to start with Graceling and with this one, so I basically flipped a coin. It mostly stood alone fine (except for the graceling child character, who seemed to be there purely for readers of the other books). It was also simply wonderful.
I'm not usually into fantasy with much political intrigue (actually, the excessive politics are what often turns me off urban fantasy, as well). It's not so much the politics themselves, but the fact that I need to care about it before I find it interesting, and authors often fail to get me to that point. Not Cashore. Maybe that was because I felt that the plot, all the politics, where there as a background to the character development. What this is about is Fire learning to trust herself, about her realising that she isn't her father and that using her powers for the better good isn't going to turn her into him. It's a fascinating conflict, especially when you combine it with her mixed feelings about him. He was a loving father, and yet also a profoundly evil man. That's a conflict that really, really resonates with me, due to some family history (not my dad, he's a lovely man all around).
Fire's powers might make her come across as a Mary Sue character, in a less skilled author's hands. She's gorgeous, and everyone who sees her is enthralled (a sort of female version of Colin Ames-Beaumont, from Meljean Brook's Guardians series), but her monster nature is no picnic. In fact, it's something that keeps her constantly on the edge, always on her guard, never completely safe. It's a trial, not a wonderful gift, and that's what it feels like, which makes all the difference.
I also loved what Cashore did with Fire's personality, and with the romance, because it was all so subversive. Fire is allowed to be ruthless when need be, not to go all 'eek, eek!' when circumstances require it, just because she's a woman. She's also allowed not to equate love and sex. There is a romance, a satisfying one, but when the book starts, she basically has a friend with benefits she's not at all in love with. Also, she will not have children, although she does want them, and there's no hand-waving in the end to allow her to have them, an acceptance that it is possible for a woman to have a happy ending and a satisfying life without kids.
MY GRADE: An A-.
AUDIOBOOK NOTE: There are two versions of this book available, and I listened to the one read by Xanthe Elbrick (this one). I liked it well enough. The voices she did for the male characters weren't particularly convincing, but on the whole, it was fine.