Beautiful creatures called monsters live in the Dells. Monsters have the shape of normal animals: mountain lions, dragonflies, horses, fish. But the hair or scales or feathers of monsters are gorgeously colored-- fuchsia, turquoise, sparkly bronze, iridescent green-- and their minds have the power to control the minds of humans.
Seventeen-year-old Fire is the last remaining human-shaped monster in the Dells. Gorgeously monstrous in body and mind but with a human appreciation of right and wrong, she is hated and mistrusted by just about everyone, and this book is her story.
When I started this book I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it. I haven’t read Cashore’s debut novel ‘Graceling’ (although it is sitting on my bookshelf at home), so technically I guess I read these the wrong way around. However, I really don’t think it mattered because from what I’ve heard they’re more like stand-alone books than a series which follows on and has to be read in strictly the right order. I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it because this was in the science-fiction section of my local library and I’m not normally a SF fan. In addition, after a quick perusal of the blurb, I was still unconvinced that this was going to be my cup of tea. How wrong I was!!
The book charts the story of Fire, a beautiful human-monster living in the Dells, who attracts the lust of all those around her and who is particularly tempting to other monsters. She has spent her whole life trying to protect the people around her and stay out of sight. However, when war threatens, she decides that she has to use whatever power and control she has for good, so sets out on a dangerous journey to the Kings City. One of the things I admire most about this book is the incredible world that Cashore has invented. What an imagination she has! Places and people are created vividly and seem so real at times that you forget it’s all made-up. There are some wonderfully descriptive passages throughout and the language itself is rich and magical, weaving a complex tale which never fails to surprise.
To begin with, I wasn’t sure about the opening prequel section of the book and I couldn’t really see how it was going to fit into the story. However, I think that may be due to me not having read ‘Graceling’ yet, and by the time I got about two-thirds in, everything did fit together. Cashore takes her time building up the layers of the story and the characters, presenting a number of ethical situations for her main protagonist, which really involve the reader and get them thinking. The climax of the book was tremendous with several twists thrown in for good measure and I enjoyed seeing how it all unravelled.
For those who like a spot of romance, you won't be disappointed and I have to just say how much I adored the relationship between Fire and her horse Small. When you read the book you'll see what I mean!
I would definitely recommend picking this book up and giving it a try, even if it doesn't initially look like your normal book fare. Some of my favourite books are the ones that I normally would never ever have even contemplated reading and it's always a lovely surprise to find out how much you enjoy them after all.
The third book in the Seven Kingdoms trilogy, Bitterblue, is due out in 2011. I shall be first in the queue to buy a copy :)