Monday, October 1, 2012

Review: Fire by Kristin Cashore

Story Synopsis: 

It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. The young King Nash clings to his throne while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. The mountains and forests are filled with spies and thieves and lawless men.

This is where Fire lives. With a wild, irresistible appearance and hair the color of flame, Fire is the last remaining human monster. Equally hated and adored, she had the unique ability to control minds, but she guards her power, unwilling to steal the secrets of innocent people. Especially when she has so many of her own.

Then Prince Brigan comes to bring her to King City, The royal family needs her help to uncover the plot against the king. Far away from home, Fire begins to realize there's more to her power than she ever dreamed. Her power could save the kingdom.

If only she weren't afraid of becoming the monster her father was.

Lisa's Review:

Kristin Cashore's ability to weave a world, filled with unique and interesting characters always makes her stories worth reading. I enjoyed Graceling, the previous story written in this world, and I truly enjoyed Fire, but not in the way I expected. Cashore has a way of pulling you into her world so that the story and its characters stay with you. However, while I enjoyed this story and found it compelling, I am not convinced it should really be categorized as Young Adult. This book is fantasy, pure and simple. Truly enjoyable fantasy. Not really YA.

Before you get mad at me for saying this, please hear me out. It's not that the these books were overly complex or that anything addressed in these books wasn't suitable for young adult (or even some middle grade) readers. It's about the Young Adult fiction category itself. I still believe the story to be very good.
Young Adult fiction is usually characterized as follows:
  • First person narrative: Generally, young adult fiction is written in first person and Fire is written in third. There are always exceptions: the later Harry Potter books (though the series started as middle grade) as well as The Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series come to mind.
  • Protagonist is high-school aged: The idea behind YA versus regular fiction or even the upcoming "New Adult" category is that the main character in YA fiction is experiencing things that relate to being that age in some way. I've even heard that stories set the summer after graduation no longer qualify the story for Young Adult. While Fire is seventeen at the start of the book, she is treated like an adult woman in all aspects.
  • Story takes place over a short time frame: The idea is that the stories are faster paced and events take place closer to real time than adult books. However, Fire takes place over the period of a year or more, with many major events happening.
  • Written in scenes, more than summaries: This gives a sense of immediacy to the story. Most YA fiction is written in scenes where characters interact. Fire is not written in as many scenes, so there's less immediacy to some of the events, giving the story more of an 'adult' pace or feel.
In fact, the only thing making this story young adult is the fact that Fire is seventeen when the book begins (18 when it ends) and that any sex scenes are written in a completely fade-to-black kind of way. Otherwise, her publishers and promoters have stretched the genre to bring a good story to young readers.

This book is a strong work of fantasy and could just as easily thrive on the adult shelves. Marketing it as YA, however, made this book, and Graceling, truly stand out, and made it available to readers of all ages. It's an argument in favor of adults reading fiction that's classified as "Young Adult".

While I truly enjoyed the book, I can't help but feel a little manipulated when good stories are cut to fit a YA genre simply because it's a "hot" genre. While it's true that there are always exceptions to any rule, sometimes the exceptions outnumber the rules.

If we based a book's YA status on the age of the characters alone, Game of Thrones could be added to the YA shelves because there's a few young characters in there. Just sayin'.

Blair's Review:

I think Lisa covered this pretty well so I won't add much, except to say that I agree. I enjoyed reading this book, but it didn't feel YA. As for the reasons why, I didn't have as many as Lisa - she knows a lot more about the rules and trends of YA than I do. For me, it was Fire's age that made the difference. She could have been 20-something and it would have been the exact same book.

That said, I really liked the book. What I love about Kristin Cashore's writing is that her made-up world is so detailed that it feels real. At no point does the world feel like it exists solely as a setting for the story; it bursts with a life of its own. I can imagine all sorts of stories taking place behind the scenes. Cashore opens the door to the world and invites us in, and I'm more than happy to enter. (And it's got a map. I love books with maps. Maps are like invitations. Dear Reader, please enter this fantasy realm. A map is provided for your enjoyment and convenience.)

Similar to Graceling, the pacing is a bit uneven. There's a reveal about 2/3 through the book which feels artificial - Fire knew this detail which is critical to her character, and we're in her head, so why didn't we know it too? The "A ha!" moment felt tacked on for effect. And there's the whole it-doesn't-feel-like-YA-thing. It feels like its been jammed into the YA mold.

Well-developed characters and a rich world make this book worth reading. But it should be marketed to adults as well. I'm sure there are adults out there who would enjoy this book, but won't come across it because its only on the YA shelves. That's kind of a shame.

Our Ratings:

Lisa's Rating: 3.5 or 4 stars
Blair's Rating: 4 stars

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