A few months ago I read Kristin Cashore’ Graceling. I loved the fantasy world Cashore created, the strong characters, the danger that bubbles below (and above) the surface. Graceling enchanted me, whole and complete from beginning to end, so much so that after I read the last word, I knew I was not yet ready to revisit its world. All around me, however, readers were raving about Cashore’s second novel, Fire, and so finally, expecting to plunge back into the world of Graceling, I began to read.
While reading Graceling, I wondered again and again how Cashore would challenge Katsa, the powerful fighter she had created. After all, what could possibly stop a woman so strong that none, neither man nor force of nature, can defeat her. When the challenge came, it was complete. The stakes were high, and I trembled and read faster, wanting to find out if and how Katsa will win the day. I cheered for her, because despite her immense strength I could see her humanity, her frailty, her dependence on the other characters which I knew would not help her when the moment came to face her test.
I had a harder time empathizing with Fire, the heroine of Fire. She appeared to me a passive heroine, floating through the novel, experiencing rather than causing the action around her, engaged mostly with her own inner turmoil. With mind reading abilities and the capability of altering people’s behavior and thoughts, Fire ought to have been a powerful character. And yet because she never fully acknowledges her magic, or because she is always surrounded by her bodyguards, I felt she never fulfilled the promise of her potential.
Fire limits the physical and mental manifestations of her powers. Since the sight of her beauty causes people to lose their self control, she covers her hair and downplays her physical appearance. She refuses to touch people’s mind unless for self defense, and even after the royal family convinces her to work for them as an interrogator, she reads the prisoners’ minds with a gentleness and kindness that attests to her distaste for any form of violence or invasion.
Though Fire deals with war, it is as calmly written and as introspective as a ride down a tranquil river. I think, after Graceling, I imagined something more like a class five white-water rafting trip. I wonder if I read the novel too quickly, with an eye for the action and plot rather than the intricacies of character development and relationships. Perhaps I ought to have taken the time to enjoy the thought process that turns Fire into the heroine she is. Fire, I think, is a novel to read slowly and carefully, not a race to the end.
Maybe my expectations were at fault, but far from feeling discouraged, I plan to approach Bitterblue, Cashore’s third novel, with fewer beliefs, to luxuriate in her poetic prose and enjoy her perfect building of character and world.