In the Dells live monsters, animals of all types in brilliant colors – magenta, chartreuse, blues and purples rarely found in nature (wrong climate for tree frogs. Which is probably a good thing, as I’m not sure how they’d differentiate between normal and monster tree frogs.) The monsters are so beautiful that they impair peoples’ ability to think; people can become so mesmerized that they don’t defend themselves against a monster raptor, or against monster mosquitoes, for that matter.
Fire is the last human monster. Monster beauty and human intelligence combine such that she can read and influence minds that aren’t defended by a lot of willpower. It also means that people throw themselves at her a lot – wanting to profess their undying love, wanting to rape her, wanting to kill her out of jealousy, or wanting to kill her to prevent her from becoming like her father: a monster who controlled a weak king, used his power to rape and murder for sport, and left the kingdom ripe for civil war when both he and the weak king died. Fire has lived her life in a remote village, but eventually finds herself drawn into the lives of the royal family and the war they are fighting.
Fire‘s being billed as a prequel to Graceling, and it does provide an origin story for King Leck, but both it and Graceling work very well as stand-alones. I actually think the Leck parts of Fire are the weakest parts and not really necessary to the story, though there’s certainly enough seeds to see where it’ll be important come the third book, the planned Bitterblue.
The rest of Fire, on the other hand, is very strong. The writing is gripping and both the characters and the relationships are complex and satisfying. There’s Fire, of course, who has to deal with what she could be with her abilities, what she doesn’t want to do with them, the constant danger she’s in, and the knowledge of what her father did with his abilities. The other characters are nearly as impressive, wrestling with conflicting desires and knowledge, secrets, guilt, and, especially, the complicated connections between love, jealousy, sex, and trust. Family issues are also potent; Fire isn’t the only character who must wrestle with what her parent(s) did, and whether or not she will follow the same path, and the rather complicated family trees raise issues of kinship and the definition of family.
All that in a good, enjoyable book.
My review of Graceling