Friday, 9 October 2009

‘Fire’ – Kristin Cashore (Gollancz/Dial)

I picked up Kristin Cashore’s ‘Graceling’ way back in September last year and found myself faced with a book that kept me turning the pages even though it was chock full of everything I hate in fantasy. I could go into the reasons all over again but my review is still here and that will do the job just as well. Have a click Here to read it, this review won’t be going anywhere in the meantime!
You’re back? Great :o) Despite my issues with ‘Graceling’, I still found myself wanting to know what would happen next with ‘Fire’. As it turned out, I ended up finding out what happened ‘before’ as ‘Fire’ has been written as a prequel to ‘Graceling’. ‘Fire’ ended up being a superior read to ‘Graceling’ and I’m glad that I gave it a go. It still managed to fall foul of a few things that I really can’t stand though...

Marked out by her vivid red hair, Fire is a beautiful young woman whose beauty has an unexpected (and unwanted) side affect. With this beauty comes great influence and power; men and women will do anything for her attention and affection, nothing is too much and Fire is rightly afraid of the consequences. A quiet existence, to protect herself as well as others, seems to be the only life that Fire can enjoy but the world moves on regardless and her power will soon be in great demand.
Fire now has a chance to undo the wrongs of the past as well as fight for the sanctuary that she has come to call home. Will she take this chance though and what will be left after she is done...?

‘Fire’ is one of those books that I find myself reading almost despite myself. You know the ones I mean, you know you shouldn’t like it but you can’t help turning the pages to see what happens next...

The premise behind ‘Fire’ is a good one and fits in well with what has already been laid out in ‘Graceling’, promising an interesting confrontation to come in future books. This is a land where danger comes at you from more than one direction, even in the safest of places, gradually creeping into your mind as well as coming at you. The people of the Dells have learnt to halt the mental attacks but are totally unprepared for both Fire and another character that you will have already met if you’ve read ‘Graceling’. It’s interesting to see how the reaction that these two cause, in the society of the Dells, in more ways than one as Fire carries a degree of baggage that will impede her own progress. It’s also interesting to see how Fire circumnavigates these obstacles despite my reservations about her character (more on that in a bit).

At the same time, the reader has a land full of political intrigue, mystery and full on warfare to contend with and this is where I had the most fun. Cashore’s writing is a little darker this time round with the horrors of war being explored in a number of settings. I liked the way that although the reader never really sees a battle take place, descriptions of Fire’s work in military hospitals leaves us in no doubt that war is a brutal and bloody affair.
The intricacies of the plot are conveyed through a group of thoroughly engaging supporting characters who I had a great time following. Cashore is a little more willing, this time, to explore the shades of grey (between good and evil) and this comes across in characters such as Archer, Brigan and Brocker. What we get as a result is a book that is more than capable of springing surprises and turning the plot on its head a little bit. Some of these moments are a little easier to see coming, than others, but the overall affect is still a good one.

With such a great supporting cast, it’s a shame then that the character of Fire herself was a bit of a let down as far as I was concerned. While Fire does everything that the others do, she is a little too good to be true (despite a twist near the end that I never saw coming) and this was of detriment to the plot. Her mixture of perfection and vulnerability loads the plot with pathos, and makes her life seem that little more tragic. Anyone who feels alone and different will find a lot in common with Fire and maybe that was the point of her being written the way she is.
What I found though was that it all felt laid on a little too thick. I didn’t need to be told more than once that Fire has a rotten life and every time it happened I found myself skimming pages a little more readily. I also found that this approach signposted the direction that Fire would take a little too obviously, her interactions with certain characters blatantly hinted at resolutions which then came to pass (I’m trying not to give away too much here!). While this didn’t affect the rest of the plot, in terms of what happened to the kingdom itself, it did rob Fire’s personal journey of a lot of the tension needed to maintain interest. If you already know what’s going to happen then what’s the point of continuing the read?

Despite my issues with the main character, ‘Fire’ has a lot going for it in other areas and that’s why I had to finish the book (even when it felt like a slog to read). ‘Fire’ is a definite improvement on ‘Graceling’; the series itself hasn’t become an essential read for me but I’m now that little bit more interested in seeing what comes next.

Seven and a Half out of Ten


Daya said...

What an interesting review! I read Fire and really enjoyed it, but I read it before Graceling, so it was my first example of Cashore's writing. Maybe things would have been different had I read them the other way around!

Cara Powers said...

I can't believe you didn't see that twist coming. It had a lot of foreshadowing. A lot. Multiple times. Here's my review: