"I don't want to love you if you're going to die".
Fire by Kristin Cashore is the second book in the Graceling Realm series. It's not really a sequel to Graceling as much as a prequel or a companion novel, in that the events narrated take place about forty years before what happens in Graceling. Also, the setting and characters are different, with one notable exception.
The kingdom of the Dells is going through dangerous times. In King City, young King Nash is trying to defend his throne from attacks, aided by his brother Briggan, the head of the army. The kingdom had been almost destroyed by Nash and Briggan's father King Nax, who was little more than a puppet in the hands of Cansriel, Fire's father. Although Nax and Canriel are both dead, their ruthless governing is still very much alive in everyone's minds.
Fire is the last human monster living in the Dells. She's extraordinarily beautiful and has the power to influence everyone around her, but she will not use her powers; instead, she spends the time trying to hide them. When apparently mindless men try to kill her, Fire goes to the royal palace to visit Queen Roen. There she meets Nash and Briggan. Nash falls prey to her charm, while Brigan totally distrusts her. As Brigan and Fire need to work together to overcome the threat to the kingdom, they strike up an unexpected friendship.
The Dells is a kingdom separated from the Seven Realms by mountains. There are no Graceling here, but monsters, both animal and people: they are unnaturally beautiful, cause others to feel uncontrollable lust, and can influence other people's minds. Fire is afraid of her powers, especially of becoming like her cruel father. For the same reason, she does not want to marry and have children, because she will not give light to other, possibly evil, monsters.
I liked Fire as a character. Many people regard her as weak, as she aways needs guards to escort her and cannot defend herself on her own. But she's not a war machine like Katsa. She can't but attract unwanted attention, and her only defense is mind manipulation - which she won't use, at first, not even for good. I find her quite a strong character: she never knew her mother and was brought up by a cruel father, who loved her, but whom she couldn't trust. She has friends, but has felt alone for most of her life because of her being a monster. She almost feels responsible for her father's actions.
My favourite aspect in this novel is the romance between Fire and Brigan. He's quite swoon-worthy. Cool-headed general, kind person, tender father, good friend. On top of that, he must be good-looking. What0s there not to like? I loved Fire and Brigan together.
This book has often been criticized because of its depiction of casual sex. At the beginning of the novel Fire, who is seventeen, has a "friends-with benefits" relationship with her childhood friend, Archer. Archer will go to bed with any willing woman, or so it seems. There's a lot of sleeping around and having illegittimate children. I'm not particularly upset by any of these references. This is a fantasy kingdom similar, in some aspects, to the Middle Ages, so it doesn't seem strange to me that people have illegittimate children - good for them that they have birth control, even though someone apparently doesn't bother with it. Frankly, though, I could have done without the repeated mention that animals are attracted to Fire when she has her period, so she always needs to be escorted by an armed man in those days. I understand her blood attracts beasts and other monsters, but we don't need to be constantly reminded.
Readers have also criticized Cashore for her anti-marriage stand. Fire will not get married, and even though she would like to be a mother, she feels she cannot have children of her own. Katsa does not want a husband or children in Graceling. I have only read a couple of chapters of Bitterblue, but she, too, refuses to get married. I appreciate it that the author chose to portray strong women (even though some readers would call Fire quite weak) who want to go beyond the traditional roles of wife and mother. Let's face it: with the possible exception of rich, noble women, such as Katsa, Fire, and Bitterblue, life choices for women are quite limited, in Cashore's world as it was in the Middle Ages.
I would totally recommend Fire to everyone who liked Graceling. It is not strictly necessary to read them in publishing order, but I think you need to read them both before going on to Bitterblue.Favourite quotes:Brigan was saying her name, and he was sending her a feeling. It was courage and strength, and something else too, as if he were standing with her, as if he'd taken her within himself, letting her rest her entire body for a moment on his backbone, her mind in his mind, her heart in the fire of his.
The fire of Brigan's heart was astounding. Fire understood, and almost could not believe, that the feeling he was sending her was love.Cover attraction:
pretty. The mouth at the top of the cover is actually translucent. Very fitting.