Sunday, 5 September 2010

CBR2 Book 74: "Fire" by Kristin Cashore

Publisher: Gollancz
Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars
Date begun: August 14th, 2010
Date finished: August 16th, 2010

Fire lives in the kingdom of the Dells. As well as normal animals, the Dells is populated by jewel-coloured monsters that are so beautiful that they can mesmerize their prey. Fire is a human monster, she has to keep her flaming locks covered at all times, both because she is the favoured pray of all the carnivorous monsters, and because she doesn't like the way humans get rendered helpless around her. She has the ability to get into the heads of humans and influence them to do her bidding.

Her father was the chief "advisor" to the old king, but in reality controlled him like a puppet. Her father loved his power over people, and only showed real affection and occasional kindness to his only daughter. However, he caused the King to act very rashly, and drove the kingdom towards instability, so Fire is determined to be as unlike him as possible. She lives on a small estate far away from the capital, teaches everyone around her to put up mental shields to protect them from mental manipulation. She teaches music to children, and tries to stay out of trouble. But soon mysterious hunters come to her home, and then get killed before they can be questioned.

The young king, Nash, and his brother Brigan, who acts military commander, are struggling to keep control in the kingdom, there are forces both to the south and the north who want nothing more than to take power. They need Fire's help, but Brigan especially is very suspicious of her powers and suffered terribly while her father was alive. He would like nothing better than for her to die, but is forced to set aside his misgivings to help his brother secure the throne and peace in the kingdom.

Kristin Cashore's previous book, Graceling was a very original and interesting fantasy novel. Fire is a prequel of sorts, set in a country neighbouring the one in Graceling. It is actually even better than Cashore's debut, and that is great praise indeed. Fire is a fascinating heroine, who has great powers but is deeply reluctant to use them due to the heartless and irresponsible behaviour of her father. From an early age, she saw how her powers could be abused if she was not careful, but having been mostly raised by the former king's crippled military advisor, she has learned goodness, loyalty and responsibility, but is not confident that this can counteract her monster instincts. She understands why the king's sons are both sceptical about her, and wants nothing more than to prove herself useful to them, to atone for the sins of her father.

Fire is set in a fascinating world, and all the characters are complex and wounded in their ways. There is adventure, and suspense, and political intrigue, but Fire's personal growth makes up the core of the novel, and is fascinating to read about. I could barely put the book down, and can't wait for Cashore's next novel.

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