The world Kristen Cashore created in her first novel, Graceling, proves to be more extensive and contains more wonders than just the Gracelings. In her second novel, Fire, Cashore takes the reader a few decades back in time and to a country over the mountains from the Seven Kingdoms introduced in Graceling. In a land relatively unmentioned in her first novel, Fire focuses on the political strife of the Dells where there are colorful monster-animals that enthrall and threaten the scattered population almost as much as the feuding lords trying to topple the royal family.
The vibrantly hued monster-animals are a particular threat to Fire who, since the death of her father, is the last of the powerful and alluring human-monsters. The Dells are a kingdom perpetually on the brink of war after the late King Nax’s selfish and lavish tendencies along with those of Cansrel (Fire’s father and Nax’s closest friend and advisor) drove the kingdom into disrepair and vulnerability. Living in the shadow of her father’s violent and lasting memory, Fire learns to develop the mental powers that come with being a monster but she fears what using those powers might lead her to become. She fears becoming manipulative and destructive like her father and sometimes goes to uncomfortable extremes when that fear creeps up on her.
From the novel’s prologue, it’s clear that the mysterious and dangerous Leck from Graceling will make an appearance in Fire, but the role he plays is more understated and secondary than the first impression of the prologue. Showing his early childhood, Leck is instantly recognizable and proves to be less complex than expected. A few of the questions about Leck that arose in Graceling are answered in Fire, but the Leck is really the only connection between the two novels, and with what turns out to be only development to his back-story and no real insight into the psychology of his character, it seems like an unnecessary link to have included.
Though the premise of the monsters that roam the Dells is more than enough to raise eyebrows at first, but once you’ve suspended your disbelief, the political strife of those hills captures the attention. Small skirmishes make way for a great deal of spying and intrigue in the capitol city as preparations for the oncoming war unfold, with Fire grasping at just what her role will be in protecting her county. Where the more important plot advancements in Graceling felt rushed to the point where they were over before you could fully realize what had happened, the pacing of Fire is much more even.
The characters of Fire are just as much a driving force of the novel as those of Graceling were. With Fire, Cashore has presented another strong and independent female figure for teenage girls (Cashore’s target audience). Her female characters don’t always know quite what they want, but when they do find something they feel strongly about, they refuse to stand by when they can do something about it, but they also think things through and in some instances, over think them.
I’m looking forward to the next installment, Bitterblue, though no release date has been set as of yet. Considering the almost complete independence of the first two novels, I am eager to see whether Cashore will bring other characters from Graceling back and whether or not any of the characters from Fire will make an appearance.