Fire, by Kristin Cashore

>> Sunday, February 03, 2013

AUTHOR: Kristin Cashore

PAGES: 480

SETTING: The Dells
TYPE: Fantasy
SERIES: Part of the Graceling series (2nd published, but 1st chronologically).

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.


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.


Darlynne,  4 February 2013 at 15:56  

I loved this book so much, partly because of Elbrick's narration. I may even have recommended her to you and am sorry it didn't work so well. Aside from that, the story is outstanding and Fire is a character I would very much like to see again. She was exceptional for all the reasons you mentioned.

Brie 5 February 2013 at 03:28  

We know how I felt about this book, although I must say that I (mostly) agree with your review. So let's talk about the dad instead -- Do you really think that he was a loving dad, or was he enthralled by her as monster and as his creation? To me, it wasn't clear. That was the only part of the book where she felt like an unreliable narrator. I really enjoyed their relationship, it was very interesting. Cashore does a similar thing in Bitterblue. But read Graceling first!

Rosario 6 February 2013 at 16:48  

Darlynne: Oh, no worries, the narration was fine. I guess I compare every audiobook I listen to against the gold standard (aka Barbara Rosenblat), and she wasn't anywhere near as good!

Rosario 6 February 2013 at 16:53  

Brie: That's such an interesting area. I think he loved her, but it was a narcissistic love. He loved her because he saw her as a smaller version of himself, rather than seeing her as her own person and loving that. He kept trying to show his love by giving her what *he* would like. Which, Fire being completely different, repulsed her. I think she saw that, but to her it was still a kind of love, thus her conflicted feelings about him.

Can't wait to get to Bitterblue!

Darlynne,  6 February 2013 at 17:16  

Interestingly, I cannot stand listening to Barbara Rosenblat, particularly when she tries out English accents. I've never understood why American narrators are given English books to read, makes no sense to me.

Quick: Jim Dale or Stephen Fry?

As for Fire: I think she also felt the disturbing and fascinating pull of being able to manipulate someone as strong as her father. It's a power she wouldn't have wanted, although she did use it ultimately. Her ability to not step off that cliff completely and permanently--unlike Leck--testified to her character.

Rosario 6 February 2013 at 17:24  

Darlynne: LOL! Ah, I buy her English accent completely! I can hear minute differences in Spanish accents, and can certainly tell if someone's trying to put on a different one, but in English? Nope. I can tell what accent someone's doing, of course, but unless it's quite bad, not if they're doing it well.

For regular audiobooks, Jim Dale. Stephen Fry's voice is so distinctive that I don't think I could lose myself in a story, it'll always be Stephen Fry playing someone else.

Agreed that that was also going on with Fire. It was part of her conflicted feelings about her powers, that she had actually enjoyed using them, and to cause someone harm.

Marg 13 February 2013 at 09:55  

I really loved this whole trilogy, although I guess technically it is a series of linked books rather than a true linear trilogy.

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