Fire is a companion book to Graceling, but I really insist you read Graceling first, so get going. The two books have one character in common. Cashore brilliantly introduces him in the prologue and has the reader biting her nails in suspense waiting for him to reappear, knowing that when he does, it will be with devastating consequences (and it is).
Fire lives in the Dells, a kingdom left in chaos by the former King Nax and his evil adviser, Cansrel, Fire's father. There are monsters in the Dells, beautiful creatures with the ability to manipulate people's minds, typically with violent results. Cansrel was a monster who drove the kingdom to ruins for his amusement and left behind the only existing human-monster, Fire.
Fire is capable of enormous power, but she's terrified of using it and becoming the despicable creature her father was. Although Fire is powerful, being a monster makes her extremely vulnerable. She's the most gorgeous creature in the land and can control minds, but all the animal-monsters, and a great number of people, want to kill her. (It's kind of like the president, in a way. He has all this power, but can't even run to the corner market without an entourage of secret-service cuz some whack-job might shoot him).
So, while avoiding assassination attempts, Fire struggles for her independence and tries to find her place and purpose in a dangerous world. King Nax's two sons, Nash and Brigan, seek Fire out for her help, but the problem is while Brigan hates her, Nash likes her a little too much.
Cashore does a great job of interweaving all sorts of intriguing side plots and back story to keep the reader guessing, even when some other plot elements may be predictable and anticipated, such as the appearance of that Graceling character.
Even with all the war, sex, violence, and mind control, this story is really about family. It seemed very fitting to be reading it on Thanksgiving. The royal family of the Dells resembles most modern American families with half-brothers, step-sisters, adoptive fathers, love triangles, and illegitimate babies galore.
When men, raptors, and mountain lions want to kill her at the mere sight of her flowing red hair, Fire learns that the most dangerous thing she can do in the face of human mortality, is love someone.
Once again, Cashore brings us a young-adult fantasy with sophisticated grown-up relationships. (I mean, really, if I had to sum-up these relationships you'd think these people belong on Jerry Springer or One Life to Live, but Cashore's artful writing elevates all the baby-mommas up the literary ranks and turns them into one great story).
And I know this blog is about heroines, and Fire is pretty bad-ass, and Cashore does a great job of balancing Fire's power with her vulnerability. But can I just say one little thing about the men?
In addition to powerful heroines, Cashore writes great men. She writes horrible, misogynistic men, she writes good-intentioned but controlling and domineering men, and she writes men for her heroines to fall in love with who are...good. Both Katsa and Fire feared losing a part of themselves and sacrificing their independence to be in a relationship. But both of them fall for men who love them for the bad-ass independent heroines they are.
Also, one more thing. I like the sex in these books. Although Cashore barely describes a kiss, her characters have sex. Actually, in Fire, some of them have a lot of sex. The reader doesn't see it, it's barely mentioned, but it's there, and it's a part of life and normal messy relationships.
The combination of well-crafted male characters and a positive and realistic outlook on sex make Fire a breathtaking romance. Cashore sets up healthy adult relationships that young girls can look up to. Which is SO much more than I can say about some other YA books.
Anyways, go read Fire and let the countdown to Bitterblue begin!