Fire is the companion novel to Graceling by Kristin Cashore. You may be wondering what the difference is between a companion and a sequel. I haven’t read many series that take this approach, but in my understanding, a sequel picks up after the conclusion of the events in the first book and follows the same characters. A companion merely takes place in the same world, but doesn’t need to follow the same characters (although there may be some overlap) or the same timeline as the first novel. Fire actually takes place many years before the events of Graceling, in a different part of the same world, and the only overlapping character is the villainous Leck. So fans of Katsa and Po, be warned — they haven’t even been born when the events of this novel come to pass.
Fire is a monster girl, the only one of her kind. Monsters in Fire’s world are not as we think of them; they are simply creatures with fantastic coloring and certain special abilities. So a brown cat is a cat. A purple cat is a monster cat. Fire’s monster beauty causes all creatures, but especially men and other monsters, to be unnaturally drawn to her — men to her beauty, and monsters to her blood. She has learned to diminish the attention by covering her flame-red hair and dressing drably, but she still draws the eyes of every man that crosses her path. She also possesses the ability to enter other beings’ thoughts to communicate or even alter their thinking according to her will, but she doesn’t like to use her powers to control others and tries to allow men to keep their thoughts their own.
Fire has grown up living with her lifelong friend, Archer, and his father, former commander of the king’s army, Lord Brocker. She and Archer have enjoyed a friends-with-benefits relationship for many years, as he can’t help but be in love with her monstrous beauty, but at the same time, he knows her for who she truly is. Fire loves her friend in return, but has decided she must never marry or have children, for she wouldn’t wish the life of a monster on any of her offspring.
But soon, Fire’s comfortable life with Archer and Brocker is upset. Her presence is requested by King Nash, and his brother and current commander of the army, Brigan. They need her to use her special abilities to help them determine who is sending spies with mysteriously clouded minds into the kingdom, and what their enemies are planning. Although Fire is reluctant to go, she realizes that her powers may be the only way to prevent the kingdom from falling to evil in what seems to be an inevitable war.
Fire was a very different type of story from Graceling. Whereas Graceling was more of an adventure story with just a handful of important characters, Fire is much more political and character-driven. There is a host of varied and intriguing characters, and while there is some action, most of the story revolves around unraveling the mysterious political motives and actions of nations on the brink of war.
Right off the bat, I liked Fire more than Katsa. My biggest problem with Graceling was that I couldn’t connect to Katsa very well, and therefore had a hard time becoming truly invested in the story. With Fire, although her monster beauty and her semi-telepathic abilities make her even less human than Katsa, I found her spirit and inner struggles much easier to identify with. She definitely had some thoughts and attitudes I disagreed with, but they all fit with her character and you could see why she was the way she was.
This book has a large supporting cast, and it took some concentration to keep them all straight. My favorites were Brigan, Brocker and Archer, even though none of them was infallible (it may be weird that I picked Archer, given his cornucopia of character flaws, but seeing him through Fire’s eyes allowed me to like him in spite of them), but I also really enjoyed the female members of Fire’s personal guard, who were a constant presence for most of the book, and the king’s other siblings, Clara and Garan. It was a lot of personalities to keep track of, and Kristin Cashore did a fantastic job of giving each of her characters, supporting or not, their own distinct personality and voice.
The plot was complex and at times hard to follow, simply because of the nature of books about political intrigue. I normally tend to speed through books, but I had to pull back and pace myself with this one so as not to miss any of the intricate twists and turns. The pacing was a bit on the slow side, but it worked for me because it allowed the characters to develop more naturally. I felt the ending was a bit more drawn-out than seemed strictly necessary, but it was still largely satisfying, tying up many loose ends. There’s definitely room for more stories set in Fire’s world of monsters and monarchs, but even if this book was a standalone and not a companion, it would be fulfilling.
The writing, as in Graceling, is beautiful. Settling into Kristin Cashore’s prose is like curling up by the fire with a cup of hot cocoa. It’s just comfortable and soothing for my brain, and I could actually feel my thoughts relaxing as I sank into the world of Fire. I love the way Kristin Cashore tells a story, and I’ll read anything she writes, simply to experience her lovely storytelling.
Fire is a beautiful and fascinating tale, set in a unique fantasy world full of colorful characters that I wanted to immerse myself in completely. Even if you haven’t read Graceling, you could read and enjoy Fire with no trouble, although Graceling would probably enhance the reading experience. I loved it, and look forward to more stories set in this world.
Content Guide: Contains violence, threats of sexual violence, and several mentions of casual sex.