Fire by Kristin Cashore (2009)


Published by Dial Books in 2009

460 pages

112,634 words

Ages YA 

Did you ever shy away from reading another book by an author because you loved his or her first so much? That’s what happened after I read Kristin Cashore’s Graceling in 2008. I loved it so much that I didn’t read any of the sequels although I purchased the books as soon as they came out. Now, seven years after Fire came out, I finally picked it up. Was I disappointed? No and yes. I liked it a great deal but I didn’t love it as much as I loved Graceling. 

Fire is the story of Fire, the last human monster. A young woman so beautiful that she makes men do crazy things. But that isn’t Fire’s only striking feature. Like every monster, she can manipulate people’s thoughts. Fire lives in the kingdom Dell. A kingdom that is threatened by war. At the beginning of the novel, Fire is summoned to the court. With her ability to manipulate and read minds, she should question spies and help king Nash and his siblings Clara and Brigan, to detect the plans of their enemies. Fire is reluctant at first. She doesn’t use her power against people’s will but then she accepts and leaves her best friend and lover, Archer, behind and follows Brigan and his troops back to the king’s city.

Fire is a story of treachery and war. Courage and cowardice. Hope and despair. It’s suspenseful and well-plotted but that wasn’t what I liked about it. I loved the images Kristin Cashore evokes with her words. The monsters are such a great idea. The animals have the most striking fur. Golden or green cats with purple dots. Colorful mice and rats. Even bugs. I would definitely love to have a monster cat. There are also very dangerous red, yellow, and green raptors. Fire’s hair is – of course – fire-red. Monster’s love eating monster meat that’s why Fire is always in danger of being attacked by raptors. But they also attack other humans and are a constant threat. I could see these creatures, see the world they inhabit. Cashore is really a evocative writer and it was a joy to “see” her world.

I loved Fire. She is strong and true to herself. There are two love stories, one that’s about to end and a new one and both show that Fire chooses freely. No man can chain her. Another trait I loved is her love for animals. There are some wonderful animal characters in this story. Especially Fire’s horses and one small dog. Fire is a positive character but that doesn’t mean, she doesn’t have a darker side. She’s complex and quite often it takes her a while to act because she has to explore her heart. Before she isn’t sure that she only does what she wants and thinks is right, she won’t budge. I loved that Fire’s monstrosity and beauty allowed Cashore to explore topics as different as gender, relationships between men and women, having children or not – and all the topics tied to this like contraception, abortion, sterilisation – and many others.

I’m not entirely sure that one can call Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue a trilogy. They are set in the same realm but one could easily read only one of them. They do stand alone. As far as I know, Bitterblue, does bring the two first together. There are a few open questions in Fire, or rather we suspect that we might see a few things taken up again, so I would assume, Bitterblue isn’t in the same way a standalone. Be it as it may, I’m looking forward to reading it. I’m pretty certain, it will not take me another seven years before I do so.

Have you read any of the three “Graceling Realm” books? Which is your favourite?

The Snow Sister by Emma Carroll

The Snow Sister

Published by Faber & Faber in 2015

Pages: 100 with full-page illustrations. 

Word count: 11,000

Ages 6 – 12

What a delightful short book. In an interview, Emma Carroll said that she loves snow and wanted to capture her love for it in a book. Actually, The Snow Sister is already her second snow book. The first was the novel Frost Hollow Hall, which I haven’t read yet. While I’m not as keen on snow as she is, I’m partial to a story that captures the spirit of snowy winter days and Christmas.

The book opens with little Pearl making a snow sister. We learn she’s lost her beloved older sister a few years ago, and every winter, she makes a snow figure, drapes her sister’s shawl around its shoulders and believes, for a very brief moment, her sister’s still alive.

It is Christmas eve and Pearl and her family are very poor. They can’t even afford to make a Christmas pudding. When a letter arrives, informing them that Pearl’s father’s rich brother has died and left him his most important legacy, they rejoice. Maybe they will be granted another credit at the grocer’s and there will be a Christmas pudding after all. And, maybe, they will soon be very rich.

While Pearl’s pa goes to Bath for the opening of the will, little Pearl goes grocery shopping. Both are surprised by a heavy snow fall and when Pearl injures her ankle in the street, she’s brought to a stately home. She’s never been to a place like this; the people who live in this house are so rich. Rich but loveless. The kids quarrel; the grownups are sour.

The plot centers on the question whether or not Pearl and her family will get rich as well and what they will do so, should this happen. I’ll let you find out for yourself.

What I liked a great deal about this story, is how wonderfully evocative it is and that it’s set in the 19th Century. As far as I know, Emma Carroll is drawn to that era. Thanks to her interest I got introduced to a special Victorian Christmas treat – sugar plums. That description alone was worth reading the story.

The Snow Sister is firmly set in a long tradition of Christmas stories. It is reminiscent of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol and the Russian fairy tale The Snow Child. I was also reminded of Andersen’s The Little Match Girl, even though this story isn’t tragic.

Lovely descriptions, a heartfelt story, and historical details make this a perfect read for a snowy afternoon. Even in February.

Here is Emma Carroll’s Website