by Kristin Cashore
Welcome to the Kingdom of the Dells, wedged between impassable mountains, a wintry sea, and the hostile neighboring country of Pikkia. In this small, isolated world within the world, the first fact of life you need to know, if you mean to live long, is that monsters exist. In the Dells, "monsters" are not huge, ugly beasts. In fact, they look just like ordinary animals and people, except more beautiful—hypnotically, unnaturally beautiful. Their eyes and hair come in weird colors, which is how you can spot them. But beware: though they are shaped like regular birds, and beasts, and people, they are terribly dangerous. They hunger for blood and flesh, especially that of other monsters—though they will settle for human prey as well. And in the case of monster men and women, they have the ability to ensnare minds and bend others to their will.
One such human monster was the handsome devil Cansrel, who pulled the strings of the late King Nax, turning his reign into a lawless scramble for sensual pleasure, punctuated by explosions of sadistic anger. Now Nax and Cansrel are both gone. The new king Nash, who has some of his father's weaknesses, struggles to hang on to his throne while warlords at the northern and southern ends of his realm plot his overthrow. All his hopes lie in the military genius of his youngest brother Brigan, the espionage work of his middle siblings, and Cansrel's flame-headed daughter Fire, last of the human monsters.
Like A. Lee Martinez's Monster, the first surprise in this book may be that its title is also the name of its main character. Fire is beautiful not only on the outside, like any monster of the Dellian persuasion, but also where it counts. She dreads using her powers, or being used, for the kind of evil that led her country to the brink of ruin. She loves her childhood friend Archer, but can never love him the way he wants her to. She needs to be guarded, night and day, against predatory monster birds and beasts that would go into a feeding frenzy at the first glimpse of her hair or scent of her blood—and against those people whose minds are not guarded against the telepathic power that surrounds her, against her will, driving them mad with either love or hate. One of the people who has trouble controlling his love for her is King Nash, whom she doesn't love but loyally serves; while the man she really loves is his brother Brigan, whose violent way of life and ice-hard mental discipline nevertheless rankle at her.
Fire's adventure is partly a tale of war and intrigue with the fate of a kingdom in the balance, partly a tale of love and loss with Fire's heart at stake. Her most dangerous enemy turns out to be a "wild card"—a boy from the other side of the mountain barrier, where the proverbial "gift and curse" takes a very different form. Birth and death, crime and heroism, deadly extremes of cold and flame, the uncovering of long-kept secrets, and the discovery of new family ties, are only some of what is in store for Fire in this passionate, thrilling fantasy novel. This second book in the "Seven Kingdoms" trilogy is the sequel to Graceling. The third book, titled Bitterblue, comes out in 2012. Visit the author's blog for updates!
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 14+
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