fuel for the fire

Saturday, April 10, 2010 |

I confess: when there’s a book coming out by an author I really admire, I shun reviews like nobody’s business. I can’t stand the idea of having the book spoiled by a stray sentence or two in someone’s well-meaning review or synopsis. Let’s just lay it out there: I get paranoid. It doesn’t matter whether it’s supposed to be an opus or a flop. I just…freeze. And if by weird or arcane circumstance I don’t read this much-anticipated book till months and months after the release date? Well then…I go into turtle mode. Tuck my head in my shell and don’t look at anything that could be remotely close to text referring to the book.

Such was the case with Fire by Kristen Cashore. I loved Graceling, Cashore’s previous (debut) novel. I read it in a night and then urgently called my brother the next day and told him he HAD to read it. Joey, bless his heart, went by the bookstore on the way home from school, and then HE spent all night reading it. He loved it (if you couldn’t tell), and passed it to my sister. Who then bought a copy for her 9th grade classroom. Sometimes? The book love spreads like, well, FIRE. ha. ha.

So Fire, the second novel in this fantasy universe, already had a lot going for it. And then I won an autographed copy! Gorgeous! But. There is always a ‘but.’ It came out in October 2009. 2009 was my transition year. I quit grad school (I was going for a Ph.D. in history), I moved across the country (back home), I got a part-time job translating and interpreting in two languages, and then I eventually moved back across the country to a new home and another new job (I’m settling in Washington, DC for a while, I think. Mostly because I just hate packing THAT much).

I don’t know if you can tell from the last paragraph, but the last half of the year was pretty tumultuous. I think it’s a miracle I kept on blogging, honestly. And I wasn’t reading all of these wonderful books I was getting in the mail. Fire stayed on the shelf until this last weekend – Easter weekend. And then I decided I NEEDED to read it (plus, I had the time!).

She is the last of her kind...

It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. In King City, the young King Nash is clinging to the throne, while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. War is coming. And the mountains and forest are filled with spies and thieves. This is where Fire lives, a girl whose beauty is impossibly irresistible and who can control the minds of everyone around her.

Exquisitely romantic, this companion to the highly praised Graceling has an entirely new cast of characters, save for one person who plays a pivotal role in both books. You don't need to have read Graceling to love Fire. But if you haven't, you'll be dying to read it next.

The set-up is a time of unrest, an unusual girl, and her complex relationship to her land and the people around her. But this story is more than that. Fire’s world is intense with pain, vivid with color, alive with love and stained with lunacy. It’s fantastical, yes. But you see the extremes of moral debauchery carried to their logical ends, and then someone has to fix that world, or let it go to complete wrack and ruin. It’s not pretty, but it is sort of beautiful.

As for the reading experience, I was sucked in. The story enveloped me, and I cried real tears along with the characters. I think Cashore created something really wonderful, and really worthy with Fire. I’d recommend it to anyone.

With that said, I also have to mention the one thing that’s returned to my mind over and over with this story (and Graceling too, for that matter). It’s Cashore’s handling of reproductive health. I understand that fantasy worlds can be whatever the author wants them to be. And I think Fire and Graceling definitely will start discussions on this topic, because Cashore injects non-traditional (some would say feminist) sensibility into the story. I think it’s just an incredibly *touchy* subject for a lot of people, and I found it very interesting that Cashore made it a central issue for some of her characters. She’s braver than I. But I also mention this topic because it was the one thing that pulled me out of the fantasy. I got to this part and put a book I was devouring right back down. I almost felt…disappointed.

Now – you can take that however you will. It’s not a judgment. I didn’t lose my will to finish the book. It just brought me out of the story and made me think for a bit. If you’ve read Fire, did you notice that part? Was it a big deal for you? What are your thoughts?

I loved Fire. I adored the action, the romance, the intrigue, the mystery, the sense of impending doom…it was all wonderful. I’d recommend this book for anyone from high school age on up – it’s a fantastic story, told in a really beautiful and authentic way, and I think it qualifies as serious, well-written literature on top of being entertaining. Read it!


Unknown said...

Oh, I absolutely noticed it, and even asked Kristin Cashore about it when I met her at an author signing last fall (and would certainly call it a feminist element). I happen to love the positions she's taken with Fire and Katsa and families, not only because of their uniqueness, but also because of how a similar position can come from two very different places. Katsa draws strength from her independence, and it's really the responsible choice for her at the moment since she plans on continuing to throw herself into danger. Meanwhile for Fire, the lack of children in her future is a tragedy, because she wants nothing more than the family she didn't have growing up.

Unknown said...

I am totally also avoiding reviews of this one, and I have Fire on my pile and it's sitting there looking at me, and for some reason I cannot explain I haven't picked it up yet. I'm excited but nervous. I loved Graceling so much...

Also, I skipped your review past the summary ;) because I'll be back to read it when I've finally read this book.

Peaceful Reader said...

I skimmed. I have yet to read the first one but plan to this summer. Glad you've rooted yourself in DC.

Tales of Whimsy said...

Powerful review :)

Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

I have both Graceling and Fire on my shelf and have not got to them yet. I am hoping to get to them here this year. I have heard such great things and can't wait to read them. Thank you!

Memory said...

I actually thought the reproductive rights issues worked very well with this story. It's one more thing Fire has to deal with; one more burden she has to bear. I love how the ending fit with her decision, too. It felt right.

Jenny said...

Ha, you are so different to me. When something's coming out (book or film) that I'm excited about, I make myself more excited by reading EVERY SINGLE THING about it that I can find.

*eats spoilers for breakfast*

Nesral said...

Hehehe, well Cissy, who do you think stays up reading books more often? Wait, don't answer that. Anyways, I recently ordered a book that I might send you after I read it, if you have time... Love you :) back to class

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