Fire is the second of the Graceling Realm novels by Kristin Cashore. It is both a prequel to and a spoiler for Graceling.
Finished on: 25.3.2022
[Here are my reviews of the Graceling Realm novels.]
Content Note: ableism, animal abuse, rape (mentioned)
In the Dells, there are monsters: Animals that look quite normal, except that they are brightly colored and with the power to control the minds of others. Monsters are carnivores with a special hunger for monster meat. Fire is the last of the human monsters. She’s impossibly beautiful, has bright red hair and is jealously guarded by her childhood friend and lover Archer. Fire would have probably enough on her plate just by being herself – alternately admired and feared by everyone around her and struggling with the memories of a father who used his monsterness for cruelty – but she gets caught up in the young king’s struggle for the throne and has to worry about assassins with weirdly clouded minds.
It’s been a while that I read Fire, and much like with Graceling, I’m very happy that the book still holds up. I really loved returning to this novel as well.
One of the things that I really loved about Fire from the start is that it is one of the few novels that openly talks about menstruation (more than once), and not in a “you’re a woman now!” way, and actually considers it when there is a plot device that monsters are attracted to other monsters’ blood. It’s a literally bloody nuisance for Fire, especially since it comes with pretty bad cramping (also a rarity to read about). And I really can’t say that my appreciation of this frankness has diminished.
Nor has my love for the characters. Fire is a great heroine, complex and great, but definitely not without her baggage and issues. And Brigan is perfectly lovely (I probably like him a little better than Po, but it is a close call). It is wonderful how Cashore sets up her characters, especially Brigan and Archer, to show what a healthy relationship looks like. And it’s never in question that things with Archer aren’t great, though there are understandable reasons why Fire doesn’t just break it off immediately or hasn’t done so a while ago.
What I do see more critically now is that Fire decides to get sterilized. Not because I think that every woman wants to and should have children, but because Fire obviously really wants to have children – but is also convinced that there shouldn’t be any more monsters in the world. And there is a self-loathing here that feels rather ableist to me. Being a monster is not a disability in this world, but this argument that some people shouldn’t even consider having children because their children will have a difficult life or problems that other people don’t have certainly is an ableist one.
But other than that, I really loved Fire again. It makes my hopes even higher for the new novel in the series that prompted this re-read. But first: a re-read of Bitterblue.