By Kristin Cashore
Reviewed by Kenny Brechner

Fire is set in The Dells,  a land geographically adjacent but physically inaccessible to The Seven Kingdoms in which Cashore's first novel, Graceling, takes place. As far as being a "prequel" goes, the only connection is that the heavy of Graceling,  Leck, figures in lightly as a child. Leck's time in the dells is briefly mentioned in Graceling, so there was pre-thought on the creative side, but one could certainly read Fire first with a clean conscience. The Dells are rather different from The Seven Kingdoms in that there are no gracelings, the fantasy element stems rather from 'monsters', exquisitely beautiful versions of familiar animals with strikingly unnatural colors, and odd mental powers. Most are harmless, but some are deadly, such as the raptors. Monsters in human form are rare, and very powerful, due to their ability to read and penetrate the mind of other people. They often serve as councilors to rulers, with dubious bonding and power relations at work there. Fire is herself a monster human, whose father was a power hungry libidinous terror in whose image Fire is determined not to be made.

 Fire has two love elements, the tempestuous Archer, and her ultimate soul mate Prince Brigan, whose Father had been The King who linked up with Cansrel, Fire's father. Brigan shares Fire's desire and burden of trying to make up for a father's crimes and nefarious legacy. Fire is loaded down with burdens in that the rank and file Dells male is completely straught of his wits around her and filled with lust, possibly of the violent kind, which she can completely perceive mentally. Mind control is prized and nurtured in the Dells, due to the Monsters, but Brigan is somewhat unique in being able to completely block out Fire's mental powers. The book includes political intrigue, burgeoning romance, and lots of adroit psychological interplay. I found it to be exceptionally engaging on the whole, though the wheels came off a bit at the end, where a game of musical parentage, symmetrical revelations, and Archer's overheated death, made for an overly tidy ending. The number of women who took on the pregnant but still badassed persona seemed to get a bit too legion at the end. For a book which was so rooted in psychological perception Archer's connection to Cansrel was oddly missing. The Leck angle felt pasted on and not vital to Fire's story. 

Finally, the romance got a bit thick for me, but that may very well play into Fire's strength with the Twilight crowd. Brigan gets markedly sensitive at the end, which many readers may find enthralling but will likely make the legion of older men who read the book feel rather deflated. For example when Fire witnesses Brigan crash into a room in which she is about to be murdered, she observes with repressed horror the efficiency with which he smashes the pommel of his sword into the enemy's face and then plunges the sword in for the kill. Brigan is pained at what Fire must have seen, but Fire communicate with her mind that while she feels through the horror, she also senses that this is what he must be able to do, that it is lamentable but right. Personally, I reflected that this what my wife must feel when seeing me viciously slicing onions and broccoli prior to executing a stir fry, and that she must similarly reflect how someone must after all prepare dinner. Yet the manliness differential in smashing a sword pommel in someone's face and stabbing them, against efficiently mincing garlic and tossing it in oil can readily be calculated, and the experience is shattering, I assure you. These deficiencies aside I think Fire has great potential to both please Graceling fans and reach a much larger audience, as well.

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