Summary: It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. In King City, the young King Nash is clinging to the throne, while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. War is coming. And the mountains and forest are filled with spies and thieves. This is where Fire lives, a girl whose beauty is impossibly irresistible and who can control the minds of everyone around her.
Earlier this year, I wrote up a review of GRACELING. I had a few issues with the ending and the main character’s growth, but I still liked the story.
Fire is better. I still have some of the same issues, but, overall, the author handled things in a more sympathetic and understandable manner.
As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.
The biggest issue I had with GRACELING was her lack of growth due to an incredibly large aversion to marriage. In FIRE, the aversion to marriage is still there, but the motivation behind it is more understandable. Fire is a human monster, meaning she’s unnaturally beautiful and has powers of mind control. But she’s not a monster in the sense that she takes advantage of these gifts and bends everyone to her whims.
Her father, however, was a monster both genetically and mentally. He took joy in making others suffer, and, in the process, made the whole kingdom miserable. Fire managed to grow up with compassion (something her father lacked entirely), so she won’t do what he did. But she’s afraid of turning into him, so she has written off both marriage and children.
I completely understand her reasoning here. She has valid reasons for not wanting to risk her own children turning into someone like her father. I wouldn’t be able to handle that, either. In GRACELING, there wasn’t a clear reason for Katsa to be so resistant to marriage. Not by the end, anyway. But FIRE handles this much better.
That said, the whole aspect of marriage still has an awkward feel to it.
Two of the royal family have illegitimate children (one of which is a woman, and she never marries). The king ends up courting a commoner, who also has an illegitimate child. These are all wonderfully open-minded ideals, and perfectly acceptable in today’s world. But with royalty? The whole basis of royalty is that royals are on a level higher than everyone else, therefore everything they say or do has to have a veneer of perfection fixed over the top. This definition of royalty was even acknowledged in the story, so I found it a bit odd. If royalty had been defined differently, then that would have made this much less awkward.
Another issue I had with GRACELING was Katsa’s lack of struggle – she never had to fight in order to gain something. Unfortunately, the same thing happens in FIRE. Fire’s story is largely internal, and she is on a personal journey to accept herself and acknowledge that she can do good with her powers. I think that’s wonderful, because there are many people on similar journeys. The big difference is that we struggle along the way, make mistakes, and have to work really hard in order to get what we want. Neither Fire nor Katsa do this. They’re both clearly on a journey, but we don’t experience any struggling with them. We’re told that they’re working on something, and then a few pages later they have it. For me, that’s cutting the reader out of the most important part of the journey. After all, it’s the hardest part, and watching Fire struggle would have sparked more sympathy, as well as created a closer connection to her.
The last big issue I had with the story was Leck. I don’t understand why he was there, except to tie this story to GRACELING. He made some things more difficult and he did something that was really awful, but he wasn’t central to the story. If he’d been written out, those complications he caused could have easily been picked up by the real bad guys. I think his presence was supposed to intrigue me, but instead he annoyed me. Especially with what happened to him at the end.
Still, I liked the story, and I will definitely read the next book after FIRE. But I do wish the author would insert less of her own beliefs and stay true to what the story demands. Even if that isn’t what she herself would do.