The protagonist of Kristen Cashore’s second book has a lot in common with Katsa, the main character from her debut novel, Graceling. Both are enormously powerful women who are terrified of using their own great talents, and even more frightened of having their powers exploited by others. But the ways that their powers manifest is very different. While Katsa’s Grace is extremely physical, and her struggle to hold herself back was always concerned mainly with her body, Fire’s struggle is primarily a mental one. Fire is a monster, which means that she is unbelievable beautiful and can control other people with her mind. She is the only human monster left in the Dells. Fire chooses not to use her power, constantly fighting to keep from becoming like her father, who greatly misused his ability. She must also deal with the suspicion, hate, and lust that her stunning beauty and her power inspire in others. But her father’s machinations have left the country approaching war and ruin, and Fire’s reluctant use of her abilities may be the only thing that can save the Dells.
While I, personally, didn’t connect with Fire as well as I did with Katsa, that did not stop this book from being a rip-roaring good story. (And really, is it much of a surprise that it is harder to relate to someone who is so perfectly gorgeous and powerful?) And as much as I’m sad to have left Katsa and Po behind, it was delightful to meet this new group of wonderfully complex characters. The royal family is a treat – every member constantly surprises with new layers. And Prince Brigan rivals even my beloved Po as a love interest.
There is one holdover from Graceling – we meet King Leck as a boy. His monstrosity, as a human who can control minds through his Grace, provides a foil for Fire’s humanity, as a monster who struggles to use her powers wisely and well. I do wish we were given a little bit more insight into why Leck is so inhuman – I assume that it is just as a result of always being able to get what he wants. But he is so extreme. And since we only see him as a child through the eyes of his father, whose mind Leck has controlled for many years, the reader doesn’t come away with a very clear picture of how he becomes so warped. Unlike the other characters we meet in Cashore’s worlds, Leck feels very one-note.
Cashore is masterful at using little movements and changes in posture and bearing to show a character’s thoughts. It’s a little thing, but it’s done so consistently well – she’s got show-don’t-tell down to a science. The little descriptions are constant, especially during dialogue between Fire and Brigan, but they never feel extraneous or distracting from the action. Each character has their own little vocabulary of movement, just as they each have their own patterns of speech. It’s just one example of the many ways that Cashore brings the characters’ subtext to the surface. This was one of the things I enjoyed most about Graceling, and I was pleased to see it continue in Fire. I think it’s one of the reason’s that her romances are SO good – we actually see them developing not just through words, actions, and thoughts, but also through the characters’ physicality.
Kristin Cashore is an enormous talent. Once again, her book swept me away with wonderful characters, sweeping adventure, and a sizzling romance. I will be waiting impatiently for Bitterblue, the third book set in this world.
Fire on the web.
Kristin Cashore on the web.
Review copy provided by the publisher at BEA.