You know those books that you love to read, because no matter how many times you read them, you still love them just as much? Fire by Kristin Cashore is one of those books for me. This book came out in January of 2011 (eek- 5 years ago!). My personal copy is dog-eared, torn up and probably has a bit of water damage (from being hauled to the beach, or cottage, or camping, more than once). I’ve loved this book since the first time I’ve read it, and while its companion novels, Graceling and Bitterblue, are certainly wonderful, only Fire holds a special spot in my heart.
It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. The young King Nash clings to his throne while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. The mountains and forests are filled with spies and thieves and lawless men. Monsters, terribly beautiful creatures with the power to control the thoughts of man and beast alike, plague the land. Fire is the last remaining human monster. With a wild, irresistible appearance and hair the color of flame, she is equally hated and adored. She also has the unique ability to control minds, but she guards her power, unwilling to steal the secrets or thoughts of innocent people. Fire enjoys her quiet, routine life in the mountain range in the north of the Dells, until Prince Brigan comes to bring her to King City. The royal family needs her help to uncover the plot against the king – a plot far more complex than she, or the Royal Family themselves, could have ever imagined. Far away from home, Fire begins to realize there’s more to her power than she ever dreamed. Her power could save the kingdom. If only she weren’t afraid of becoming the monster her father was.
Alright, so to start off, this is definitely another great piece of writing from Kristin Cashore. Fire fit seemlessly with the plot of Graceling, vastly expanding the world Cashore had already created. The Dells are in the midst of a whole lot of political turmoil, although (seemingly), none of it is really King Nash’s fault- all the twsits, turns and intrigue that have led the country to disaster are actually linked to the previous King (a mad tyrant), his Queen (who, unsurprisingly, left him) and Fire’s own sadistic father, who is arguably the reason the kingdom is all but crumbling to the ground. The children have inherited their parents’ mistakes, except now the stakes are higher (death) and the game more intricate (cue spymasters and assassins). Personally, I loved the whole intrigue, and how Cashore slowly built the world, piece by piece, never revealing too much, too soon. I felt like the big reveals happened right when they needed to, and that the plot thickened as the web of truths and lies grew. By the end of the book, I really had no idea what to expect from that final stand-off; with Cashore, I suppose anything could have happened at that point!
I also feel that Cashore did an exemplary job on character development and growth within this book. I’m going to focus on Fire, Brigan and Nash, but they are hardly the only characters who underwent some serious character development.
- Fire started off as a slight unstable, timid girl(-monster), who preferred her quaint country life over the hustle and bustle of pretty much anywhere else. She hid her features that distinguished her as a monster (notably, her hair), and was ashamed of who she was. Throughout her journey to King City, and her experiences in King City, Fire matured and grew quite a bit. Early on, she showed her stubbornness in her refusal to give up, or to be cowed by the mostly male army escorting her to King City. However, it was her ability to open up to others, and her acceptance of who she was, that really changed her. Initially, she was very closed off, believing herself to be “protecting” others from her monster-ness; as she got to know people, however, she slowly opened up, and welcomed others into her life, leaving behind the closed-off, distant self.
- Brigan was arguably my favourite character in this entire book, his relationship with Fire notwithstanding. He’s dark, he’s brooding, and he’s sure got one hell of a complicated parentage going on (and he doesn’t even know it). He hates Fire initially, because of what she is, and who her father was, but slowly, he begins to like, and even care for her, showing that he is a far more compassionate character than initially anticipated. He’s also slowly revealed to be funny, caring and intelligent- basically he’s perfect.
- Nash is interesting as well. When he’s first introduced, he’s basically a child in regards to his control around Fire, and his behaviour in general. However, he soon recognizes his shortcomings, and begins to strive to be something more, through his mental training with Fire, and in his role as King. Readers start off hating him for his incompetence and general behaviour, but end up loving him and praying for his safety by the end!
Before I wrap this up, there’s one more thing I have to touch upon- I’ve seen a lot of reviews slamming this book for the sex and sexuality of the characters. First off, Fire is *technically* a bisexual character; I personally don’t see anything upsetting or concerning about this, especially since her sexuality is very nuance and well-written. The other issue many readers (parents, I’m assuming?) with this book is the sheer amount of lust, love and non-marital sex.
- The love is a non-issue for me; all the relationships in this book are pretty well fleshed out and romanticized.
- The lust- Monsters inspire lust in their victims- it’s how they overcome their mental barriers with such ease. Therefore, the “lust” isn’t so much leading to desired sex, but moreso a strong desire to have the monster- which is, by definition, what lust is (no, it’s not always something sexual).
- Finally, the sex- yes, there is sex, and yes, the main character actually does have sex with more than one person. The sex, however, is more implied that anything else, with chapters or scenes always ending before the characters get to “into it”.
Overall, I love this book, a lot. The story, the characters, the relationships, never seem to get old. Each time I read this book, I’m left feeling satisfied by the bright, complex world that is the Dells.