I ended up reading it by flashlight in the front seat of the car, on the way to dance, and then back. And then I stayed up too late and was grumpy at work the next day. Moral of the story- this book is BAD for you, don't read it. ^_^ Jk jk, read it, just don't read it right before you're supposed to be some place where your mind is required.
This book is a companion to Graceling, and seemingly has a cross-over character. I'm hoping that more of the characters also appear in Bitterblue, which is now being written, for I loved the vividness of this, and I wish to see more of the people!
The book is fantasy, and is set in the Dells, which is a collection of Countries threading through a mountainous land. The mountains are important because in a lot of places they're pretty impassible, so people move through the tunnels THROUGH the mountains. Oh, and the other big difference between "our" world and theirs, is the existence of monsters. They look like normal creatures; bugs, raptors, horses, even humans, only they're fabulously coloured, and they have the power to influnce your mind. The simplest creatures (bugs, say) just influence humans to be in awe of their beauty as they eat you alive, but in the case of more complex creatures, such as Human Monsters, they are able to serve as puppet masters, directing humans any which way they want, for their own amusement. That was Fire's father's way. He served as an advisor to the throne, which he took as free rein to ruin the country, while enjoying every drug, woman and depraved indulgence he could think of.
He was killed a few (three?) years ago, and Fire, along with the rest of the kingdom, is dealing with a kingdom in shambles, trying to beat off the encroachments on every border. Against that political background, Fire is also dealing her her parentage. She's a human monster, which means that she has all the same powers as her father, but she doesn't WANT to be him.
Oh look, I've made this sound dry. Shame on me. It's NOT. Ms. Cashore somehoe manages to deal with torture, free will, ethics, patricide, ethics, parenthood, family, ethics, accepting someone who is different, ethics, trust issues, infidelity- and all wrapped up in a nice coating of adventure and romance. Not that it's preachy, but that the characters come up against these issues, and they think about them. I'm not even saying I agree with all the decisions the characters made- I'm not a fan of pre-marital sex, for instance- but I loved that the CONSEQUENCES of actions were considered, both before and after the action. LURVE.
Oh, and there was adventure. Political Intrege! Monster attack! Kidnapping! Escape! (The whole kidnapping was from inside the head of a really-messed-up-at-the-time character, so it was kinda dry, I will admit. Heard to get emotional resonance when the character is out the other side again of emotions, into that bubble of serenity inhabited while the world falls apart. It's a bit dry to read.) Oh, and romance. I LOVED the romance. I loved the BOY, in the romance. I loved that he had a kid! I loved that it was NOT love at first sight! I loved that he understood her wanting to have kids! I loved his snarky jokes! *sigh* I loved him and Fire together. I loved his temper. I loved- Ahem.
I should stop there, shouldn't I? (I really liked him. :D)
Again, while I don't necessarily agree with all the actions of the characters, I really appreciated that one of the side effects of having sex was mentioned. That is, y'know, pregnancy. It's true, kids, kissing leads to babies. I don't think I've ever read a book where pregnancy happened to often, or was such a big thing in the plot. :D In a lot of ways, this read like a modern story, which just happened to be set in a fantasy land. I mean, Free Love has definitely hit the Dells! And also there is no God. Which puts the ethics of war, and killing people, and loosing people, on a slightly different footing, when there is no soul, eh? I'm used to fantasy novels where a god or goddess takes a personal interest in the lives of the characters, which totally didn't happen here. It was INTERESTING.
Gah, I've made this sound so dull. It's not! It's not, I swear! I gave it four stars out of five! There's just a lot of THINKING going on! In the mids of the adventure.
SIGH. I need to re-write this review.