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Fire: 2 (Graceling) Paperback – 10 Jun 2010
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Beauty is a weapon - and Fire is going to use it...
About the Author
Kristin Cashore is an award-winning author in the fantasy and YA genre. She has an M.A. in children's literature and has lived in Pennsylvania, Florida, Sydney, Cambridge, Austin, Italy and even London before settling, for the moment, in Boston.
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Graceling, by the way, is an enjoyable romp of a novel, which I would recommend.
So, to recap: Graceling is a novel set in kingdoms where some people have superpowers. In that novel, our heroine is a beautiful super-killer who, having been forced against her will to be her king's Enforcer, forms a secret Council of do-gooders doing rescue missions, and getting involved in a love triangle.
All of which has very little bearing on Fire, except that the main villain from Graceling also appears in Fire. In this novel, the prologue tells the tale of his birth / toddlerhood / early childhood, and we meet him as a boy (fairly far into the novel), in a completely different region, called the Dells.
In the Dells, there are no Gracelings. Instead there are monsters - animals, and, very rarely, humans - who are visually different from the others of their species, and who are fiercer (if animals) or so stunningly beautiful that they rob people of their minds (if human), and empowered with hypnotic superpowers (monster animals fascinate their prey, monster humans can all-out mind control people, even remotely).
Fire, our heroine, is so beautiful that her beauty takes her own breath away when she looks in a mirror. She's not at peace with her monstrous nature (just as the heroine in Graceling was not at peace with being a super killer), and lo and behold, there is a love triangle / quadrangle / web.
So, similarities: female heroines, love triangles, superpowers with a large dose of self-loathing, and heroines who have to learn to accept themselves (and to trust the male love interest despite some obstacle).
Unfortunately, Fire is a much less accomplished novel and beset by deeply unpleasant moral bankruptcy. No, I don't mean the casual-sex, no-committed-relationships, everyone-sleeps-around stuff that some reviewers object to. Fire is a war-worshipping, soldiers-are-heroes, the-ends-justify-the-means novel, advocating murder, mind-rape and pre-emptive wars as tools the 'good guys' should and do use.
Graceling is the tale of a human killing machine wanting to move away from killing and doing good / rescuing people. Fire is the tale of a human mind control machine joining a war effort by becoming an interrogator (violating the minds of hundreds of people against their wills), then partaking in a plot to entrap a group of characters in order to interrogate and assassinate them so that the 'good guys' can strike pre-emptively and start a war. Once the war is under way, her role switches between being a damsel in distress and parading about medical stations, where much of her work consists of shaking her hair loose and letting herself be more alluring so everyone can get numbed by how attractive she is...
There's a lot that's deeply disturbing about the novel. Our heroine gets touched up against her will, beaten when she frustrates men's desires, nearly raped, and that's all because she is so magically irresistible, so the story makes her forgive and forget and even declare her (sibling-like) love for one of her most persistent assaulters / pursuers. Men just can't help themselves, can they, and it's perfectly forgiveable for them to touch up women or hit them if they don't agree to a man's desires? Really?
The love interest is a man who, when initially meeting her, threatens to kill her, throws her against a wall and nearly strangles her. But she has to earn his trust (by nearly dying for him) and learn to trust him, and all will be lovey-dovey, yes?
It's a novel so misogynistic it makes me shudder.
There are other things that make this a less-than-pleasant reading experience. All the wallowing in self-pity, all the whining of our heroine. (Of course, it's her monstrous nature that's to blame for all the abuse she suffers, and not moral weakness in the people around her). Oh, how hard her life is, being desired and having the power to control minds. She spends most of the novel injured - getting shot with an arrow at the start (allegedly not for the first time), then mauled, then frostbitten... the writer seems to think she is a kick-ass, strong heroine, but that's just how she's described. Mostly, she gets herself injured and then rescued, followed by lengthy periods of wallowing & needing to heal (while the male heroes go from battle to battle with rarely more than a bruise to show for it, over which our heroine of course fawns).
All in all, not a novel I would recommend, even to fans of Graceling. It might be nominally set on the same planet, but it is really a different world with different rules, and a completely different feel (despite the similarities in themes). It's morally bankrupt to a point where it actually made me angry, and quite misogynistic in the ways our heroine is treated & accepts her treatment & learns to love her abusers. Also, the pace is a lot slower than Graceling's, and the novel feels a lot more boring in comparison.
This book is the prequel to Graceling, in which we do meet one of the antagonists in, and learn of his life before the happenings in Graceling. This way of introducing this character was done superbly, and I definitely enjoyed how he was entangled in Fire’s story too.
Another aspect I like in this book is Fire’s hatred towards her beauty, and her struggle with herself. Though she may be beautiful, she certainly isn’t perfect, and has many issues, not all of which she overcomes, but she does come to terms with them. I feel like this makes her character more realistic, in the same way that her father’s almost psychotic love of his beauty and power seemed believable too. If someone was to be like them, they would probably feel similar to either Fire or her father. There is also romance in this book, but it definitely isn’t the central point, and is only something that is on the sidelines whilst all the big plots happen.
I did also enjoy the characters, and character development, but – and this is just something that I feel personally – I feel like the main romantic interest in this book is slightly two dimensional. Not so much so that you find him dull, but enough to feel as if he couldn’t be real. This is one of the reasons this books has four stars instead of five.
Another reason is the fact that the writing style, whilst eloquent and definitely got the job done, for me it did not seem all that special. I am being nitpicky, but that’s only because that is one thing I do enjoy in books. I like seeing how the writing style crafts the characters and I want to be able to remember it. For example I remember Douglas Adams’ wit, and John Green’s teenage-like bluntness interwoven with strange, but accurate, metaphors. With this book, whilst the characters were, overall, portrayed well, I feel something was lacking in the writing. It seemed too average, and normal to me. But this is just me.
Overall this was a good read, and is definitely recommended, especially to any of those who like powerful female protagonists.
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Will be reading the 3rd one soon!
Thank you very much