Fire by Kristin Cashore is a prequel (sort of) to her brilliant book Graceling. (I don’t think I fully reviewed that book here, so let me just say, it is wonderful and you should go read it ASAP. It’s probably my favorite book that I read this year, and I don’t even generally like non-contemporary fantasy novels.) I’d heard from a few friends that Fire wasn’t as good as Graceling, and that it wasn’t really related to Graceling. That bummed me out, because I wanted more of Graceling‘s protagonist, Katsa. But I’m glad I gave Fire a chance, because it was really great.
The titular protagonist of Fire (and this sounds weird–when I first heard it, I said, what?! But really, it works) is a so-called “monster” woman. (There are “monster” versions of all animals, but monster humans are very rare. Fire believes herself to be the only one living in the kingdom.) Being a monster means being a woman who’s so beautiful that people go crazy for her and her namesake fire-red hair. She also has the ability to control their minds. She resists using this power, and she really just wants to be left alone out in the forest with her childhood friend and sometime-lover Archer. But it’s not to be, and she gets sucked into helping Prince Brigan defend the kingdom against various rebellions and treacheries. (I’m really not going to go into the details of all that–it’s complicated. Just read the book if you want to know more!) Fire’s relationship with Brigan is initially strained. Brigan doesn’t trust Fire, both because of her abilities and because of the terrible deeds her father did. Fire doesn’t trust Brigan because she can’t read his mind, and because he’s a total jerk to her when they first meet. But perhaps they can grow to trust each other… and love each other? Yes, of course they do, effing duh. But their relationship has a sweet and believable progression.
Now, here’s the thing. Parts of Fire kind of reminded me of Twilight (which is not a good thing, in my book). I mean, you have this impossibly beautiful woman who everyone falls in love with. She can read everyone’s thoughts… except one man, in whom she’s romantically interested. Sounds a lot like the Edward/Bella dynamic, right? But here’s the thing: it’s infinity times better than Twilight. Kristin Cashore is an impressive writer and she really gets into the heart of what it would mean to a woman to be so impossibly beautiful. Fire is reflective without being whiny (… most of the time). Also, as in Graceling, Cashore explores sexual relationships and gender roles in an intelligent, interesting way. After you read Fire’s thoughts about motherhood, you will never be able to take Twilight‘s baby Renesmee seriously (… if you ever could).
Besides Fire herself, this book is stuffed full of wonderful, developed side characters who I really cared about. Which is good, because if I didn’t like them, I might have found all of their soap operatic romantic difficulties a little bit much to take. As is, I enjoyed it and rooted for them all to find happiness.
Oh, and the little bit of this book that ties into Graceling is super creepy (as it should be). I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Graceling, but still–a really great read. I rate it four monster cookies (out of a possible five).