In her stunning debut novel, Graceling, author Kristin Cashore brought us Katsa, a young woman of extraordinary
power and will who possessed none of the biological or stereotypical weaknesses associated with femininity- and in her just-released second book, she returns as magnificently as ever with a new heroine by the name of Fire, who suffers many of those weaknesses a hundred times over (she can’t help but to inspire lust and contempt in men, she often finds herself attacked and injured, and that time of the month is downright calamitous), but manages to wrest control of her own destiny despite them.
In a country barren and war-threatened, Fire is the last human “monster,” the only remaining person with the ability to reach out and control the minds of those around her. Cursed by this ability and the stunning beauty that comes with it, Fire is unable to hide her nature, and is set apart to be loved or hated by all who behold her; those who don’t desire her body or her blood want her power. Her monstrousness inspires fear in everyone- including herself.
It was Katsa who wondered, “When a monster stopped behaving like a monster, did it stop being a monster?” (Graceling, p.137) This question remains a central theme in Cashore’s work, and Fire does fight to throw off the label she’s been given by her birth; indeed, she at times seems less monstrous than her supposedly more human counterparts, who loathe her but wish to make use of her powers in interrogating enemies of the realm, a task that Fire balks at.
Hated and adored, afraid of herself and of becoming the true monster that her father was, struggling with the balance between the rights of individual men and women and the greater good, Fire is an easy character to fall in love with, possessing the same vulnerable strength that so endeared readers to Cashore’s first heroine. Throughout all of Fire’s suffering and her triumphs, as she struggles with everything from a father’s legacy to love and war to the fact that she is the last of her kind, Cashore crafts a masterful tale that tackles the big issues in life without turning depressing or preachy. Five stars all the way, and many wishes for a third book soon.