Fire by Kristin Cashore
Kristin Cashore is a goddess. This isn't said lightly, but all the same, she really is a goddess. A goddess with three published novels within her Graceling world, two of which--considering I've yet to read Bitterblue--I have had such pleasure reading. Fire, however, is currently my personal favorite.
Fire tells the story of a protagonist by the name of Fire (named aptly for her fiery red hair). The thing about Fire is that she's extremely beautiful, and if her beauty wasn't enough to get guys throwing themselves at her feet, she could probably have them do that by controlling their minds. This mind-controlling skill and drop-dead gorgeous is practically what makes Fire dangerous, for unlike the rest of her Dellian countrymen and women, she is the last of her kind, a half-monster born from a human mother and a maniacal monster father, Cansrel.
Now Fire is a lady living in the Dells, a monster-filled country on the brink of war against two other nations (where the cause can somewhat be pinpointed to Cansrel's doing). Because of her monster skill of delving into a person's mind--and then controlling the mind should she choose to--Fire is employed by the royal family to help them protect the kingdom. This is practically a tall order, for traveling away from her home and stationing herself in the castle would put her in great danger--either from murder or kidnapping--maybe even both. But this doesn't stop Fire, oh no, far from it. She takes to this task like a trooper, and she rises to the occasion.
Fire takes place many years before the events in Graceling¸ and is considered the "prequel" to the latter novel. However, those who've read Graceling first will have to deal with the entirely new cast of characters and the entirely new area of the Graceling universe. There are no Gracelings save one poignant character (who purports to make an appearance in Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue in varying degrees of importance), and there is certainly no Katsa or Po. But that's the beauty of Fire, because you can read it as a stand-alone without the worry of a series!
Fire herself is a completely different heroine from Graceling's Katsa, and this either puts a person on or off regarding her character entirely. There were probably moments where I preferred the more outrageously strong Katsa over the more introverted Fire, but they both had their strengths and weaknesses. I respected Fire for her caution the same way I respected Katsa for her boldness. The other characters in Fire also deserve some praise, because I really did enjoy those that Fire surrounded herself with: Brigan, Garan (a personal favorite of mine!), Hanna, and even Archer. Oh, and Imiker, but he's a different kind of "enjoyable."
But perhaps my absolute favorite bits of the book were the monsters themselves. These creatures littered the pages with color. No, really, they did! Imagine animals--mythological, extinct or otherwise--and then imagine the number of colors in the visible spectrum. Combine these two elements together and you get Cashore's Dellian monsters. Seriously, I wouldn't mind having one of those around with me. Anyway, yes, the monsters were definitely the best things in Fire (other than the characters, of course...).
Needless to say I loved the book. And did I say Kristin Cashore is a goddess?