‘Fire’ is the second book in the ‘Graceling’ series, although it takes place some forty years earlier and in a different world from the first installment This a good thing actually, because otherwise we would be dealing with the unavoidable Book Two Love Triangle.
While I didn’t love ‘Fire’ as much as I loved ‘Graceling’, it’s still a fantastic book which again manages to sneak in a powerful feminist message. I must believe Cashore does it on purpose – she pushes her feminist agenda and good on her!
In ‘Graceling’ she nicely juxtaposed the supposedly ‘female’ and ‘male’ characteristics and swapped the genders normally associated with them. In ‘Fire’, although it might not be obvious to a careless reader, she talks about sexual violence and victim-shaming, because this is the premise – Fire, the main character, is beautiful beyond reason (yes, I know, it sounds terrible, but bear with me, Cashore makes it good) and it literally makes men go mad. She is the last human monster – a creature who can control minds and possesses an irresistible allure. She refuses to use her mind-controlling powers because she doesn’t want to end up like father but that leaves her vulnerable to attacks by sex-crazed men. She seems to be hated and adored in equal measures and if that strikes you as strange I suggest you visit any online forum where men discuss beautiful celebrities. Each time women talk about prevalence of sexual harassment, some men get offended (remember #notallmen on Twitter?) and of course, it’s not all men (why do I even need to get defensive here?) and the narrator reiterates this point as well.
“For every peaceful man, there was a man who wanted to hurt her, even kill her, because she was a gorgeous thing he could not have.”
The important message here is that rape is not about sexual desire but the control, power and submission. And even when Fire covers her hair so as not to ‘entice’ them, it’s made clear that she is never to blame but those who lack control and whose minds are weak.
Of course, this is not a story about a girl avoiding rape. It’s your good old fantasy romp with a refreshingly understated love story. It’s also worth mentioning that the controlling, obsessive guy is NOT the one she is supposed to end up with (even if his feelings are genuine). Fire is a strong character in her own way, she is not as tough and rough as Katsa, doesn’t mind wearing dresses and does yearn for children (but makes a conscious decision of not having any of her own) but she has a backbone.