The Plot: Fire lives in a world where monsters are real. Fire herself is a monster–a human one. In the Dells, a red fox is a fox. A blue fox is a monster.  Fire’s brilliant red hair, unnatural beauty and ability to control minds make her the object of desire, jealousy and fear. Fire wants little more than to live her own life, but her country is on the brink of war.

At Prince Brigan’s request, Fire travels to the King’s City, leaving behind Archer (her lover and best friend), to use her power as a spy. Can she resolve the conflict before it turns into all-out war? Will Fire ever escape the legacy left by her endlessly cruel monster father? To make matters worse, Fire keeps encountering people with foggy minds–people who don’t remember who commands them to do horrible things… or why. Fire has her work cut out for her, but can a human monster prove she’s a good person?

Fire is a companion novel to Graceling. It takes place before the events of Graceling, and it honestly doesn’t matter which you read first. Only one character carries over from “Fire” to “Graceling,” and because of the twist associated with this character, I would suggest reading “Graceling” first, but it’s not a huge deal.

The Good: 
The book starts off slow (swoon-worthy-wise), but once Fire gets to the King’s City… HOLD ONTO YOUR PANTS, PEOPLE. Fire deals with her growing attraction to Brigan with equal amounts of trepidation and tangible longing. And unlike Archer, Brigan doesn’t try to possess her.

Kristin Cashore unabashedly discusses the downsides of Fire’s power. Fire’s menstrual cycles (her blood attracts monsters, dangerous and otherwise), Archer’s possessive tendencies (and hypocritical relationships), King Nash’s often-brutal treatment of Fire… everything is handled without sugarcoating.

But beneath the surface of the straight up language is some genuinely gorgeous prose, especially as Fire and Brigan fall in love.

Example: “He came to her in her corner, the stubborn, steady feeling of him unchanged. He touched his hand to her right shoulder and bent his face to her left ear, his stubble rough and his face cold against hers and the feel of him achingly familiar, and suddenly she was leaning back against him, her arms awkwardly embracing his left arm, stiff with leathered armor, and pulling it around her.”

The Bad: Archer, Archer, Archer.  Archer is really possessive over Fire. Worse, he’s promiscuous… with other women. Fire doesn’t care (because she loves Archer, but she’s not in love with Archer), but even worse than possessive and promiscuous, Archer is hypocritical about his possessive promiscuity. He seduces half the female characters in the novel, but he has a hard time allowing Fire to form a close relationship with any man–even a man like King Nash, who she is not attracted to. Archer was the hardest part of reading this book, but he was necessary to the story. Archer’s personal story arc is sad and poignant, and towards the end of the novel I found myself hating him a lot less than I did in the beginning, so that’s something.

The Verdict: Fire, more so than Graceling, is a book that I see myself coming back to year after year. This is the third time I’ve read it through, and each time I pick up something new to love about it. It’s a book that I have to be in the mood to read, but once I’m in the mood, it’s all I want!