Summary - Beautiful creatures called monsters live in the Dells. Monsters have the shape of normal animals: mountain lions, dragonflies, horses, fish. But the hair or scales or feathers of monsters are gorgeously colored-- fuchsia, turquoise, sparkly bronze, iridescent green-- and their minds have the power to control the minds of humans.
Seventeen-year-old Fire is the last remaining human-shaped monster in the Dells. Gorgeously monstrous in body and mind but with a human appreciation of right and wrong, she is hated and mistrusted by just about everyone, and this book is her story.
Review - Kristin Cashore's Graceling was a fantastically realised debut and yet Fire could beat it up and steal it's lunch money. Fire is so much more complex with it's well crafted characters, concepts and political machinations. It's much more nuanced than I would typically expect of YA fantasy fare (I am not a snob, I've just been reading the wrong books) and I revelled in it.
Fire could quite easily become an unsympathetic character as she's irresistibly attractive, princes and lords falling over themselves in love with her and the power of persuasion. Instead Cashore has created a character who's consistently struggling with the direction of her moral compass in terms of her ability to manipulate others whether with good intentions or not.
Raised by a father who cared nothing for the well being of others and used his powers for evil, Fire grew up having to mold her own conscience and did a fairly good job of it. Cashore states on her blog that she doesn't tend to plan all that much, rather she lets the story happen for her. It's not all that apparent in her writing though as the pacing is perfection and there are no real peaks and troughs. Little meetings, quick discoveries and murderous interchanges are all on equal footing as they contribute to the overall storyline with equal importance. Despite the stock standard peculiar names of the fantasy genre, invented geography and fierce opponents you cannot help but be drawn into the story.
What makes this book and it's title character so compelling is the psychological aspects. Whether it's our feminist protagonist working through her need for independence, the constraints on her as a female in this world, the racism she faces as a 'monster', the violence of the world and the difference between loving and adoring someone. The introspection of this character is beyond thrilling. Amazingly complex, it allows the reader to empathise with Fire's position and decision making despite her extraordinary gifts. She's tortured by her past and the compromises she's had to make in order for the greater good, including her yearning for children.
Reading this book was like dying and going to fantasy heaven - a complex, strong (in mind and body) female with valid opinions and powerful contributions. There's romance, examination of the abuse of power, love turning to obsession, yearning, grief, friendship, familial ties and violence all wrapped up in a beautiful story about a monster lady named Fire in a very vivid world. Quite easily makes my top three YA picks for the year!
Published: September 2009
Format: Paperback, 352 pages
Source of Review Copy: publisher
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