I got a huge kick out of Kristin Cashore's first book, Graceling, but I have to say I may have liked her new book, Fire, even better. Fire takes place in the same universe as Graceling, but not in the same world. The gap is bridged by the origin story of the evil king, Leck, who stumbled into the Dells as a child. After a supremely creepy prologue told from Leck's father's perspective, the story belongs to Fire (yes, her name is Fire, and her best friend's name is Archer, a really neat experimentation with form informs the plot nicely) a native of the Dells. Fire is a "monster", a class of being in the Dells that are identified by their brightly colored bodies and typically vicious natures. There are monster variations of all animals, and they pose a danger to all those near them. Fire struggles with her own beguiling beauty, and her ability to enter people's thoughts, and even to shape them, because of her late father's public and political abuse of just those same traits. The story really picks up steam when Fire relocates to the king's palace, and the reader is able to spend more time with Prince Brigan, the one person whose mind Fire cannot access. Lots of political skulduggery I don't care to explain here (it'd be the longest blog post ever, and aren't these things supposed to be short? I haven't even gotten to reviewing this thing yet) ensues, and a war begins. All the while, the reader hears whispers of Leck's presence that grow louder and more insistent, until he is on the page in full force.
Structurally, Cashore has really hit her stride. The plot moves along swiftly, with several compelling subplots that tie into the overall arc of the story satisfyingly. She has also amassed an army of minor characters with incredible precision, all with their own clear motives and histories. Fire is an appealing character, strong yet very vulnerable, and her romantic interest, Brigan is appropriately swoon-worthy. Cashore did such a wonderful job tying these two, seemingly unrelatable worlds together, and sets them up for collision in a way that was entirely believable, not to mention totally exciting. Perhaps the next installment will feature monsters versus gracelings?
While Graceling was wrought with all the feminist rage a debut novel can muster (I loved that about it) Fire is more character driven, and Cashore has provided the reader with a narrator who is more in touch with their own emotions, which allows the reader a more emotive read. Due out it October of this year, from Dial.