Fire is a sort of prequel for Cashore’s Graceling. (On the book’s cover they call it a companion novel, but it takes place before hand, so I choose to call it a prequel.) It takes place primarily in the Dells, a kingdom in the mountains above the seven kingdoms where we spent Graceling, during the childhood of the King Leck. We learn about Leck’s childhood and how he became the evil king we know him to turn out to be. But though he plays his part in the story, it is actually Fire who we follow.
In the Dells, instead of having Gracelings (people with extreme gifts), there are monsters, beings of extreme beauty and allure. Fire is a human monster, so painfully beautiful that people instantly love or hate her, with the ability to exert her will over other people’s. She spends her life hiding her hair and wearing the simplest clothes she can manage to avoid attention–monster creatures desire her blood and men desire her in one way or another. Her father, also a human monster, was a destructive force in the kingdom and nearly drove the kingdom to ruin. The kingdom is still in trouble as other lords want to overthrow King Nash. Despite their distrust of her, this king and his family ask Fire to use her unique abilities to help save the kingdom.
Like Graceling, Fire is an engrossing novel of love and self-acceptance. It’s easy to love Fire’s personal journey and connect to her attempt to find herself in an unfamiliar world. She fights to resolve who she is against who she knows her father was. Is she, by her very nature, really a monster? Does that make her superior to other humans and give her the right to control them–as her father believed? Is it her responsibility to use her abilities to help protect the kingdom? On the one hand, her extreme beauty is something that teens may find it difficult to connect with. You can’t help but think “if only my biggest problem in life was that I was too beautiful.” At the same time, self-conscious teens might appreciate the idea that beauty is not as great as you would think it is.
My biggest issue is that I dislike this blending of worlds where there are Gracelings and monsters. It seems almost redundant, like the author couldn’t decide which magical world she wanted and which magical system she wanted and so she just threw them both in. While it was nice to see how Leck became Leck, it seems like the story would be stronger without the Graceling world at all. At the same time, Fire did need someone who could compete with her on her level, so I understand why she felt the need to include him. Perhaps what we needed was a second monster, a true equal, instead of a pseudo-equal.
I didn’t like this book as much as I liked Graceling, but it was still an enjoyable book. It’s strong point, for me, was in the way it dealt with Fire and her father.