Monday, March 8, 2010


Fire, labeled as a companion to Graceling, by Kristin Cashore, is every bit as strong as Cashore's debut novel, and a darn good read. Unfortunately, it is once again targeted to an audience for whom some of its subject matter is just not going to be appropriate.

Fire is a monster, which in the fictional kingdom of the Dells means she possesses unnatural coloring (her hair is flaming red -- poppy, vermillion, fuschia), unnatural beauty, and the unnatural power to control others with her mind. The Dells are home to many kinds of monsters -- royal blue leopards, chartreuse birds of prey, lavender mice -- all of whom have this power to control with the mind, though in varying degrees. Oddly enough, the food they crave the most is other monsters, so Fire is constantly in danger of being monster lunch.

Human monsters are rare and their lives are deeply complicated. Either loathed for their abilities or over-loved for their eerie beauty, they are perpetually in danger. The book is very clear that one danger Fire faces wherever she goes is rape -- some men simply can't control themselves around a monster woman.

Fire is caught up in the royal family's attempt to thwart an overthrow of the kingdom by a pair of rebel lords. The reason the kingdom is in such a sorry, vulnerable state is because Fire's father, also a monster, helped run it into the ground with the previous king. Fire is trying as hard as she can to be different from her pleasure-loving, thoughlessly cruel father. And she is, but many assume the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. There is a second plot involving a character from Graceling where Fire becomes the target of a monster-collector.

This book is listed as "grade 9 and up" but to me, that's far too young. Right from the beginning, it's made clear that Fire, who is 17, has a lover. The book does not describe their encounters explicitly at all, but their relationship is casual and Fire has no desire to make it permanent by marrying Archer. Archer, her childhood friend and lover, is not faithful to Fire. He has a number of casual rolls in the hay, two of which result in pregnancies. Cansrel, Fire's father, is portrayed as extremely cruel. He almost certainly kills a dog of Fire's that nips her accidentally. Likewise the book tells us he has compelled women to sleep with him, then killed the women who became pregnant, not wishing to share his world with any monster children, even his own. He is a drug addict and a sadist and he feels that his mind power entitles him to control others. The former king punishes one of his lords by having his wife raped. He punishes his Queen's lover by having his legs crushed. Many people get killed in this book, mostly minor characters, but one or two major ones. And their deaths have emotional repercussions -- these aren't comic book deaths. In fact, Cansrel's death (and life) continue to have far-reaching consequences for Fire and the royal family.

If you read my earlier review of Graceling, you'll know I like Kristin Cashore's books. I just can't figure out why publishers think these books are for kids 14 and up. Infidelity, rape, casual sex, sadistic cruelty, murder...I don't know. It just doesn't scream "Kid Book" to me. I enjoyed this book -- in fact, I could hardly put it down -- but it's a book for adults.

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