As far as strong female characters go, Kristin Cashore’s Fire is pretty near perfect. After reading Graceling a few months ago, I was eager to read Fire but I was unsure what to expect. A companion to Graceling rather than a prequel, Fire takes place in a land beyond the seven kingdoms known as the Dells. The Dellians have no knowledge of their neighbors beyond the frozen mountains until a strange boy, a Graceling, appears in the kingdom. But that is another story.
Unlike the world of the Gracelings, the Dells are marked by the vibrantly colored “monsters” that roam the land–beautiful animals with exotic, multi-colored pelts and the ability to telepathically connect with their prey. The beauty of the monsters is their weapon; their allure too powerful for those who are weak-minded and easily drawn. Fire is a monster, the only one of her kind left in the Dells; her beauty a source of reverence and scorn for those who meet and fear her.
Growing up in the company of Lord Brocker and his son Archer, Fire learned to respect the will of others and to fear her power. Strong and willful, she learned to hunt and hide her presence from the monsters that would have her blood, but had little to do with society. Her father was the one exception. Cansrel, beautiful and monstrous companion of the then King Nax, instructed his daughter in the nuances of cruelty, inadvertently instilling in Fire an awareness of the ethical implications of her unique ability.
When the young Dellian king, Nash, faces the threat of civil war, Fire is brought before him, her ability to sway the will of others making her a prime choice for the position of royal interrogator. When Fire travels to King’s City and reluctantly agrees to take on the job, she does not realize how much her life is about to change.
I enjoyed Graceling, but I loved Fire. Fire stands out as a female character who is incredibly aware of her self, her flaws, strengths, and her
potential to be cruel and kind at the same time. In Fire, Cashore takes those elements that made Katsa’s story so wonderful in its portrayal of female heroism and takes it up a notch. I would definitely call Fire a feminist heroine (she-ro) the likes of which I am always searching for in fantasy. Many of the themes explored in the novel–female sexuality, birth control, pregnancy, the decision to have or refrain from having children–also stand out as themes that are not widely discussed in fantasy literature (especially YA fantasy), but which are definitely important to a feminist understanding of the female as hero. While reading the novel, I found myself drawing comparisons between Fire and Tamora Pierce’s Alanna; they are not the same, but their characters are equally self-aware and independent.
This is one of the best YA fantasies I have read in a while.