Sakura (from the fantastic blog chasing bawa - one of my great favourites in the blogosphere) has kindly stopped by, in my absence, to provide a book review. Please enjoy!
I gushed about Kristin Cashore's debut, Graceling, when I read it last year. It was a surprisingly refreshing reading experience for me with likeable characters and interesting ideas. What was most welcoming was how the main female protagonist had a sense of self that defied the usual stereotypes you get in fantasy fiction. I liked it very much. So you can imagine how I was really looking forward to Cashore's second book.
Fire is set in the Dells, a neighbouring land to Monsea in which Graceling is set, where instead of gracelings (the gifted and cursed with mismatched eyes), there are monsters, both human and animal, distinguished only by their vibrant and brilliant colours with extraordinary powers and a hunger for their own flesh. 17 year old Fire is a monstrous beauty with flaming hair, daughter of the monster Cansrel who was once the brilliant and cruel companion to an insane king. Brought up in a secluded estate with Lord Brocker and his son Archer as neighbours, Fire is unlike her father and lives a lonely but loved life, always on the lookout from other monsters who crave her. Because that is what she is, something to be craved. When she is accidentally shot by a trespasser, she is flung into the path of an oncoming war where the prize is King's City and Fire herself. And when she is called up to help King Nash and his cold and closed-up brother Briggan dissipate a power struggle that threatens the Kingdom, her life changes as she must use her mind-controlling powers to help her friends survive. A power which she had sworn she would never use after the suicide of her father, Casrel.
In another part of the Dells, a fugitive graceling with a liking for control and a little pain is swiftly growing into an unforeseen power. Will they meet? And if so, will Fire, and the Dells, survive?
Somehow I was expecting the titular character to be an adult so was a little surprised that she is a teenager. Nothing wrong with it, of course, just an error in my expectation. After reading Steven Erikson's Malazan books, any fantasy not featuring the brutal and adult voice I've grown used to will feel a little soft for me. But that's not really fair as Fire is an accomplished novel, written very well, quickly grabbing your interest as you begin your journey to see how Fire will survive. Don't get me wrong, Fire does deal with a lot of adult themes about identity and the consequences of sex and rape but it was dealt a little too simply. The darkness of the issues and the simplicity of the characters felt a little dissonant. Consequently the character of Fire seemed a little too naïve and her relationships with the people around her didn't have enough depth for me to feel that we were really getting under her skin.
As a YA novel, I think it works well. I had no issues with the plot although I would have liked to know a little more about the monstrous graceling Immiker/Leck. However, there were a few things that bothered me, such as, if Fire was so strong, why couldn't she just overpower everyone more easily? And why did the ending feel rushed? I know, grumble grumble. I loved Graceling so much I wanted to love Fire too. But the issues about the simplicity of the novel with some of the darker themes that could have been explored more fully did not, unfortunately, leave me. Even at the end.
BUT, I really like Kristin Cashore's writing style and the world she has created and will be keeping an eager eye out for her next novel in the series, Bitterblue.
I won this book courtesy of a competition by Orion Books.
Thank you SO much, Sakura!