May 10, 2013

Fire by Kristin Cashore

She had thought she'd already reached her capacity for pain and had no room inside her for more. But she remembered having told Archer once that you could not measure love on a scale of degrees, and now she understood that it was the same with pain. Pain might escalate upward and, just when your thought you'd reached your limit, begin to spread sideways, and spill out, and touch other people, and mix with their pain. And grow larger, but somehow less oppressive. She had thought herself trapped in a place outside the ordinary feeling lives of other people; she had not noticed how many other people were trapped in that place with her.
-from Fire by Kristin Cashore
Like many other readers, I was disappointed to learn that Kristin Cashore's Fire was a companion novel to her debut, Graceling, rather than a sequel. I was excited to read more about Katsa and Po, but then deflated that Fire features new characters in the same realm as Graceling. However, it didn't take long for Cashore to capture my attention and heart with equally endearing characters and an even more captivating story of politics, self identity and love in a time of war.

Set in a land just outside the graceling kingdoms and a generation earlier than its preceding novel, Fire is the story of its title character: a stunningly beautiful half-monster half-human teen with the power to enter into and control the minds of those around her. As the orphan of an evil monster father who used his power to destroy people and things for fun, Fire pledges only to use her power in self-defense. But with the kingdom of The Dells on the brink of war, Fire must decide if she should use her power to help the royal family protect the kingdom. Fire is a coming-of-age story about discovering ones strengths and capabilities, and deciding how best to use them.

The story of Fire and her complicated relationship with her father, Cansrel, is simple enough: Cansrel is a monster who is bad while Fire is resistant to her monster qualities and is good, despite her doubts and fear of becoming like Cansrel. But what sets this story apart is Cashore's ability to show Fire (and the reader) that people are not black and white, not inherently good or inherently evil. People are complicated and love, namely Fire's love for her father despite who he is, is complicated.

To compound this illustration, Cashore symmetrically puts Fire in relation to the royal family who were affected by a similar mad father, the late King Nax, Cansrel's best friend. Despite the poor leadership and abuse, the royal children push forward and emphasize their strengths in light of where they came from. Although they have been affected by their father and Cansrel's abuse (most ironically their immediate bias against Fire because of whose daughter she is), the children of King Nax do not limit themselves based on the person who was their father.

While I think that these messages are important and powerful for young readers to learn, I must note that Fire has much more adult content than Graceling. The content is not explicit, but the implications make it a book I might not recommend for readers younger than high school (depending on the maturity of the reader, of course).

My only complaint might be that the segues between Fire's feelings for people are rather weak. There are few indicators that she went from feeling one way about someone to another way until she's embracing them or something. But if that's my only complaint, it's hardly worth mentioning.

Fans of Graceling may be excited to know that, while Fire takes place many years before Katsa was born, some of King Leck's history is revealed which soothes the disappointment that this isn't a sequel. I recommend reading this immediately after Graceling, even though it isn't a sequel because I think a lot of the nuances of King Leck's history may have been lost on me since I didn't read this immediately after Graceling tend to forget details. It definitely makes re-reading this series worthwhile at some point.

Bottom Line: A great action-adventure fantasy story that has something for everyone! Highly recommended! 5/5 Stars

I think if this book were to become a movie, the lead single for the romance that occurs should be Neon Tree's "Close To You". It's pretty perfect considering Fire can be close to anyone with her mind, so true intimacy is a hot commodity. Not to mention the line, "Give me fire / it will melt all your fears away" . So when is someone in Hollywood going to hire me to help with soundtracks? Just sayin'....! ;)

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