Kristin Cashore Hits Another Home Run with her latest book, Fire

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I remember the visceral feeling of how totally wowed I was by Graceling.  I was not so much astonished at Cashore's ability to create a complete and alternate world with such utter certainty that I believed it, hook, line and sinker (I had experienced that with other great fantasy authors like Tamora Pierce).  It was more that her characters left me breathless.  They lived.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see them picking up artichokes at Price Chopper or getting apples at the local farmer’s market.

I’m going to admit that when I read the premise of Fire, I was worried.   The main character wasn’t just a human being with special abilities, she was a monster.  A beautiful monster actually, and I had trouble wrapping my head around that.  Also, author Kristin Cashore was quoted as saying that Fire was more of a “prequel” with some minor crossover in the form of characters or events that would tickle the back of our Graceling minds.

Well, you won’t find me doubting Kristin in the future.  I’ll just wait with open palms for each book as she publishes them.  Fire is a tour-de-force – the main character is emotionally vulnerable as one of the monsters that populate the Dells, monsters which sometimes take on colorful human forms.  Only the very mentally strong can resist the mind-reading (and mind-controlling) ability these monsters have – the majority of residents are inflamed with desire or such hatred that the creatures are in danger of rape or assault constantly with only their mind-reading ability to protect them. 

Fire is the half-monster/half-human offspring of a diabolical monster who seduced her mother (who Fire never knew) and manipulated the former king to the point of bringing the country to near ruin.  Her face and form are so stunning as to empty the minds of the majority of people, but in addition to human predators, she is also at risk from the other monster creatures (the mammals, basically) who find one another delicious.  Her human friends and companions who surround Fire seek to protect her from these threats but the political situation of the country is such that she finds herself called into action by the children of the former king.  Feeling a tremendous amount of guilt for her father’s actions, Fire ends up using her gifts to help others.

Of course there is a love interest and I found a lot of parallels to Graceling in that area as well.  Fire owns her sexuality (she’s no blushing virgin) and while her growing love and respect for one of the leaders of the country is deep and heartfelt, the main crux of the novel is above all Fire’s personal growth and transformation.  I was moved by her feelings about her potential as a mother – on the one hand she is envious at the women around her choosing motherhood (or having it forced upon them) but she also feels so strongly about the potential damage another monster in her world could incur that she is willing to destroy her fertility before endangering others.  She’s an altruistic, deep character continually judged by her beautiful surface and under a constant pressure of personal and mental assault.

I loved this book and it made me feel even more fuzzy when I thought of the two autographed Kristin Cashore posters on my office door!  Some of our fabulous Lower School teachers attended a literature conference over the summer where they met Kristen.  It turns out that she is originally from Center Moreland, Pennsylvania (literally a mile up the road from my house) which is a very, very, very small, rural town and she attended Scranton Prep, a well-regarded Catholic school in our area of Northeast Pennsylvania.  So she had heard of Wyoming Seminary and chatted up my great teachers in a very friendly way.  They LOVED her!  We want to find out about the cost of having her do an author visit or maybe Skype us – the upper school offers a fantasy fiction English elective that could really use her insights into the complexity of writing a detailed world like hers.

The best news?  She’s working on a third book, tentatively entitled Bitterblue, which takes place a few years after Graceling.  Thank heavens.