I recently reread this book after five-six years of holding it’s rank on my special shelf. What I found out: I still love this book as much as I did the first time and I really enjoy rereading books when enough time has passed. My feelings for this story are almost unchanged–except, perhaps I understand things a bit better than I did all those years ago.
I’d like to share with you my original review of this book, taken down from a previous website, because I think it discusses my feelings, both past and present.
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I obviously genuinely enjoyed Graceling by Kristin Cashore; I understood why everyone was so in love, even if that particularly intense emotion never paid me a visit while reading Cashore’s first novel. But the potential is like fire—haha—in that you can’t ignore something so vivid and nuanced, especially when it’s capable of leaving a mark.
Cashore’s writing has that capability. Her stories feel like old tales bound in leather and passed by many hands. There’s something familiar and almost timeless about them. I can clearly picture sitting somewhere and listening to a very gifted storyteller regale me with accounts of multi-colored beasts and a heroine so beautiful it sometimes hurts—hurts herself and others. Fire by Kristin Cashore is not just about the fantastical, not with such a vulnerable, strong, and thoughtful heroine. It’s also about self-acceptance and doing what’s right even when most of the world is ready to destroy you.
Fire herself has all this power at her disposal, and, like her dreaded father before her, is more than capable of letting loose and caring little, if not at all, for the consequences. She could be a selfish, cruel, and careless character with her gift, but she makes a decision in every moment to fight the ghost of what her father was, however satisfying it would be to just give up and let go, in spite of how she is treated (even on her best behavior).
Everywhere she walks she is loathed, revered, envied, and adored–sometimes simultaneously–so much so that beauty is an outright curse. How can she know all the love and affection she craves without it being an extension of the reactions to her face and body? It’s heartbreaking to see why she can keep close only so few in a circle and never reach out beyond that, for so many minds remain weak and tainted by not always in her control. Her capacity to help and do good is stunning when so few have given her a reason against wreaking the havoc she could undoubtedly unleash.
Her sacrifices and harsh decisions, her scarred heart and body, her past which constantly bleeds pain into her present, make Fire a truly beautiful and accessible character. This, Katsa, was not, not for me. Sometimes, reading through her was more like looking into a one-way mirror–I could see what was being reflected on the surface, but it was very hard to see past that.
I love that the characters already a part of Fire’s life, and the ones she comes to know, each realize her true character in their own way, and, in giving her a chance, they become things of beauty as well. The family she forms with the royal family already in place brings me such joy. Her eventual slow-simmering romance with a honorable, stoic, and unfriendly Prince Brigan feels like reward and relief, even as it brings along tension, confusion, and many misunderstandings.
What starts out as a one-way loathing acquaintance—as Fire has irritation and wariness but no hate for the outstandingly brutal prince—unravels to something friendly, then tender and unavoidable. Fire and Brigan are so similar in so many ways, even as certain aspects of their personalities veer away from the other. They balance and fit at the same time, and it’s cause to yearn for more moments between them in the book. Their separations are not just keenly felt by those at play in the story.
The plot is so inherently layered and overlaps in all the right places—threads dangling to be pulled only when Cashore feels the story is ready. The intensity, the action, the mysteriousness and the wondering all make this story so interesting and engrossing. War politics, courtly intrigue, and a few handfuls of battles put all those aforementioned elements to use until you’re spinning in uncertainty with every suspicious character that surfaces and secret that’s discovered. Villains tangle and interchange, and so the characters are cornered from all sides and are never quite safe, never quite able to go unguarded.
And all their hardwork clears the way for, I think, a satisfying closing.
Fire by Kristen Cashore is bittersweet, tentatively woeful, full of profound prose, rich, and full of depth and invention. Each memory, hardship, and emotion are well-written gifts laid in every page. Although I’m unsurprised by the skill woven into the story, I am a little astonished by the depth of feeling I have for this second novel.
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I am a little stunned by how accurately this review of five years ago (after only a little editing) fits so perfectly with many, if not all, my feelings now.
This leads me to be curious about Bitterblue. I never gave it a chance back then, but I find myself hankering for a peek at the futures of the characters I so loved in the first two books.
Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have thoughts and opinions on this mysterious third novel. I’m hoping to get it read before *squeals* Jane, Unlimited releases in October.