Title: Fire
Author: Kristin Cashore
Series: The Seven Kingdoms Trilogy (Book #2)
ISBN: 9780803734616
Pages: 461 pages
Publisher/Date: Dial Books, c2009.

Then one raptor high in the sky felt her, and then sighted her, and screamed a horrible sound, like metal screeching against metal. Fire knew what that sound meant, and so did the other raptors. Like a cloud of gnats they lifted from the soldiers. They shot into the sky, twirling desperately, searching for monster prey, finding it. The soldiers were forgotten. Every last raptor monster dove for her.
Now she had two jobs: to get herself and her horse back to the gates, if she could; and to stop the soldiers from doing something heroic and foolish when they saw what she’d done. (93-94)

Fire is the last known surviving human monster, and she frankly couldn’t be happier. She saw the pain that her father caused through his manipulation and mind control, and she refuses to contribute to the horrors. Problems have not solved themselves after her father’s death, and she finds herself and her special abilities viewed as a pawn in an impending civil war. Dissastisfied lords from the north and south aren’t the only problem, as a stranger with similar powers from across the mountain seems to be entering the fray. Fire wrestles with the possibility of using her powers for good, even as her involvement and relationships become more complicated.

I’m sorry to say that I was disappointed with this novel, which serves as a prequel to Graceling. I feel like Kristin Cashore “tipped her hand” too early by giving readers the prologue. Any fan of Graceling knows who the boy with the multi-colored eyes is, and the advantage he has with his powers. We don’t receive any new information about this boy, and I still can’t understand his background very well or what made him into who he became.

Unfortunately, that was just one of the many characters that I could not grow to like, no matter how I tried. Fire seemed weak to me from the beginning, and while we find out information that might negate that initial impression, it was too far into the story to really change my opinion. Unable to love herself, she seemed to seek whoever was readily available to provide herself with her own opinion of her self-worth, and was suprisingly maleable considering how readily she could manipulate the feelings/actions/impressions of others. She seemed willing to let Archer (her love interest at the beginning of the book) be jealous and overprotective of her, and I got the feeling their union was more a matter of convenience than true relationship. An argument lurking at every turn, Archer’s actions later in the story did not gain him any sympathy. I also had a little deja vue going on with the internalized discussions that she took part in, with them reminding me of two other people. Graceling readers should know what I’m talking about.

Almost 100 pages into the book, all readers had gotten was a LOT of backstory, which was very political and dry and seemed like readers were getting a history lesson. I wish Cashore would have showed readers what had happened, instead of telling us why. There were also quite a few asides that seemed to a point preachy, beginning scenes with phrases like “Of course, circumstances don’t always align themselves with human intention” (77) and “This was a conversation Fire should not be hearing, not under any circumstances, not in any world.” (82)

I also got the sense that Cashore was trying to force agendas onto her characters, with Fire being just like Katsa in her desires to not marry or have kids but still enjoy sex. The book spends a hopeless amount of time talking about Fire’s periods, sexual activities, and various herbs that would either prevent pregnancy before it happened, cause an abortion, and cause infertility, which seemed counter intuitive to the plot. I can understand the reasoning behind Fire’s refusal to have children and foster more half-monsters that might take after her father. Fire has none of the self-conviction of Katsa however, and you wonder what would happen in the future since she is swayed to assist in espionage movements that take advantage of her talents. She also seems to waver in her resolve to not use her unbelievable beauty to her advantage, which seems to be tied to her power of manipulation. Alternately, when required, she hides her beauty in order to allow people around her to function, but then flaunts her beauty when it serves the purpose of disarming her opponents. In fact, there seem to be few repurcussions for Fire’s extreme and extended use of her manipulation skills, which makes for uninteresting reading. The reliance on this girl who has magically appeared at just the right moment is astonishing, especially since it appears they were aware of her abilities prior to her direct involvement. It’s almost as equally astonishing the relationships that are revealed by the end. Is the whole COUNTRY in this book related to everyone? Seriously!

The final problem I have with this book is the neat ending. Readers have slogged through over 400 pages to see the epic battle a’la Lord of the Rings, only to be subjected to a cut-away that might as well be an epilogue. Come ON! Give us the guts, the glory, the brutal battle, the heroic last stand, the one-on-one fight to the finish. Cashore might as well have written the screen play, with “fade to black” and the words “several weeks later” scrolling along the bottom. That was a cop out, and did not need to happen.

The cover is beautifully illustrated, although I don’t understand the need to continue to place segmented portions of a head on the cover. It was the eyes in the sword in Graceling, which made some sense considering the plot. However, the mouth hovering above the bow just seems out of place to me.

I understand the appeal of the series, believe me. I walked away from Graceling singing the praises. But my expectations have dramatically decreased with this newest installment of the series. I liked Katsa, but Fire seems a shadow of the predecesor, staying emotionally the same even as she changes her outward actions. By the end of the book she is still the confused and anxious little girl seeking the approval of others. Her moments of revalation are few and far between, with no lasting effect. Let’s hope Cashore returns to her roots for Bitterblue.