Fire by Kristin CashoreBy Kristin Cashore [LibraryThing]

Fire is a human monster with the power to captivate people, to slip inside their minds, to force them to believe what she wants — a power she fears, because of all of the evil her father used his power for. But when her country is in danger and the King himself pleads for help, she’s forced to confront her worst fear: herself. Is there a way for her to use her powers for good, or is she destined to be the monster everyone calls her?

I really wanted to love this novel. I absolutely adored Graceling, Cashore’s debut novel; Fire is set on another continent on the same world and ties in a little bit. But this book just didn’t quite do it for me. I think that’s because Fire, as a character, just didn’t do it for me, and there wasn’t much to the book except for Fire. Fire isn’t a bad character or anything, but she was too passive to carry a book of this length along. The main conflict of the book is internal — should she use her power or not? — and until she makes that choice she’s almost entirely reactive, swept along by what few events there are. It makes her come across as pretty wishy-washy, and while that was happening, there wasn’t enough sense of urgency in the external plot to keep me engaged.

The external plot wasn’t terribly engaging, either — political intrigue, and a lot of talk about a potential war, but as I said, lacking much sense of urgency. Then there was a kidnapping sequence, which at least was a major thing happening, but it felt pretty pasted on, awkwardly shoehorned in to give the book a tie to Graceling. It didn’t really need that — it was cool to get the Graceling villain’s backstory, but that section of the book really had nothing to do with anything else.

That said, there were some interesting things happening in the book. A lot of it seemed to be an exploration of female sexuality — Fire’s monster powers make her irresistible and desirable, but that’s a real problem more often than not. Other people (particularly men) harass her, desperately wanting her whether she wants them or not, and a lot of them simply feel entitled to possess her. (The interplay between Fire and her best friend/occasional lover Archer was really good in that regard — he did care about her, but also was jealous and protective of her in a way that was inappropriate, and she often let him because it was easier than fighting; but at the same time she resented it and wanted him to respect her, not just desire her. Great dynamic, one of the best parts of the book.) Plenty of people are in love with Fire, but there are also plenty who hate her — because she is an object of desire (very clearly an object in those cases) and they can’t have her. And the juxtaposition of Fire and her father was intriguing — he was also a monster, also always an object of desire, but as a man he was able to own and control his sexuality, and able to revel in it; as a woman, those same things caused Fire trouble, put her in danger, and made her afraid of her own sexuality.

Ultimately, I don’t think I agree on the book’s take on sexuality — as with everything else in the book, Fire is passive throughout, and never really hits a point of coming in to her own or having her own desires. She’s also obsessed with the idea of children, and how she will never have any, but questions her very existence if the point of her being alive and female isn’t to have babies. I’d have been a lot more frustrated by that, but the book wasn’t actually message-y about it; it read as more of an exploration of a lot of questions about sexuality and being a woman — as Fire’s opinions and conclusions, not as a real statement of How Things Are for the readers. (Though I would have liked to see an opposing position, personally, but it was a very limited third-person POV, so we never saw anyone but Fire’s perspective on anything.)

All that said, I did speed through the book; Cashore’s writing is enjoyable, and her world-building is fantastic. So the book slides in at three and a half cupcakes, a respectable grade, though I hope that her next book will pick up in action again.


    One Response to “Fire”

    1. […] Fire, Kristin Cashore’s second novel, is a sort of prequel/companion to Graceling, her debut. I loved Graceling so much that I gave a copy to my Dad, since we have similar tastes and all. But, while not a bad read, Fire doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor. Though it was good enough for me to assume it’s a sophomore slump, and thus I shall look forward to more from Cashore anyway. Review over at Active Voice. […]

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