Fire is a YA fantasy novel by Kristin Cashore. It is a loosely connected prequel to her debut novel Graceling and takes place approximately 35 years prior to it in a different land. Without having read Graceling, Fire was perfectly accessible and I did not feel at all lost reading it. However, Cashore’s site does say that reading Fire first gives away a spoiler for Graceling so she thinks it is preferable to read them in the order of publication. Currently, Cashore is writing Bitterblue, a sequel to Graceling with a different main protagonist which takes place about 6 years after the first book ended.
Seventeen-year-old Fire, named for the color of her hair, is not shocked when she is hit by an arrow – until she learns that the man who hit her mistook her for a deer and is sorry to discover he shot a girl instead. As a rare human monster, Fire already carries several scars from attempts on her life made over the years. Monsters are extraordinarily beautiful and possess the ability to control minds. Many hate Fire because of her dead father, who abused his abilities severely and made a mess of the kingdom as an adviser to the former king. Others would like to kill her simply because they cannot possess her. Yet this hunter merely saw her brown clothing and thought he was getting some dinner. In spite of that, it is a bit suspicious that he’s not the first stranger to be seen on this land lately and he is imprisoned once he returns Fire to her friend, the overprotective Lord Archer.
The next morning, the man who accidentally shot Fire is found dead, killed by an arrow wound that had to have been made by a very skilled archer. Soon after that, another stranger is found dead, and Archer decides to ask the former queen, Roen, for some soldiers and any information she may have on why this is happening. Fire insists on accompanying him and does so even though Archer insists she would be better off locked in her room where no one can harm her. On this trip, Fire meets King Nash, who is fascinated by her, and his brother Brigan, who looks on her with a wary eye and guards his mind against her. This leads to her involvement with trying to discover a plot against the kingdom when King Nash eventually asks for her aid due to her unique gift – which she very rarely uses after the example of her father before her.
While I was reading the completely haunting and creepy prologue, I was hooked. It was quite a switch going from the prologue, which did not contain Fire, to the first chapter. At the beginning, I found it a little slow-paced at times but it wasn’t that long before I was hooked again – and I ended up absolutely loving Fire. I loved the world with its brightly colored monster animals, the story itself, the way the story unfolded and all the different plots tied together (some were predictable but there were a few I didn’t see coming), and the various characters.
Part of its appeal was its themes and the struggles that Fire and her friends faced. Fire and Prince Brigan both seem to both feel the need to compensate for the sins of their fathers before them. In particular, Fire never wants to abuse her power the way her father did, and when she has the opportunity to offer valuable assistance to her kingdom through her gift, she has to decide what her beliefs are about using her ability to control minds – whether or not there are any circumstances under which she thinks it is acceptable to use her power and how far she can go with it. For her whole life, her father taught her that it was their right to manipulate the minds of others however they pleased and she always shied away from using it for fear of being cruel as he was.
As a character, Fire does seem to be a bit too flawless. She’s one of a kind as the last human monster, she’s gorgeous, she can control minds, she’s a talented musician, men beg her to marry them, she’s brave and she’s also very gentle and kind. Even when she is shot by the hunter in the beginning, she tells Archer not to be too hard on the man who could have killed her and has a pillow and blanket sent to his cell. Yet I really liked Fire anyway even though I often felt she was too good to be true. In spite of her advantages, Fire doesn’t always have it easy – there are those who would kill or rape her, she’s never known her mother and her father is dead, and the animal monsters like the scent of her blood far more than normal humans (which leads to the embarrassment of everyone knowing just when it’s that time of the month since she needs extra guards then). Further into the book, it becomes very clear that she isn’t invincible and Cashore is very hard on her. Plus it turns out Fire has a horrible secret and she may not be quite as obviously good as she seems.
As for the other characters, I loved pretty much all of them that were supposed to be likable (most of the ones that showed up fairly regularly other than the super creepy kid from the prologue). Brigan was easily my favorite character other than Fire, even though he was also on the very good side. Archer got on my nerves sometimes since he was so possessive of Fire – he was constantly asking her to marry him even though she always said no, keeping any guards away from her if she so much as said they were nice, and throwing lots of fits. He had been her friend since childhood, but sometimes I still had to wonder why she put up with him even if this was a fairly recent change in his attitude. That’s not to say she let him control her since she most certainly did not and sometimes distanced herself from him because of it – but she still always saw him as someone she really cared for.
Even though the main protagonist was on the perfect side, she had enough hardships that did not magically disappear and obstacles in dealing with her uniqueness that she was still sympathetic. Fire was a pleasure to read and I found myself very invested in the what happened to the characters and finding out how the story unfolded.
Where I got my reading copy: I received an ARC from the publisher.