Fire in doubts

Fire - Kristin Cashore

In Dells, monsters abound. Most of them are predatory animals or birds, incredibly beautiful but with a dreadful ability to overwhelm human mind. Only one of the monsters of Dells is human – Fire, the seventeen-year-old protagonist of this novel. She lives in a remote corner of the kingdom and tries to be unnoticed, but troubles worm their way into her life.
Fire’s late father Cansrel was the former king’s adviser. Cruel and manipulative, Cansrel held the king in his thrall and stirred discontent inside the kingdom for his own amusement. Before he died, he brought suffering and destruction to Dells, killed and maimed countless people for his pleasure. Hundreds hated him, even more were afraid of him, and their animosity transferred to his daughter after his demise.
Fire would never use her ability to control people’s minds to her advantage, but trying to live down her monster-father’s terrible legacy is not easy. She hides from the world, until the world comes knocking. The current king requests her to come to court and help fix the political quagmire her father had left in his wake.
To comply with the king’s request, she would have to use her abilities on prisoners and spies, to force the truth out of them during interrogations. It’s for the good of the kingdom, they tell her. It’s to right the wrongs of her father’s making. To save the kingdom.
Fire is torn by indecision. The war is brewing in Dells, and she wants to help, but she can’t allow herself or anyone else to abuse her powers, can’t become her father. Where is the line between mental persuasion and mental rape, she wonders? Could her invasion of people’s private thoughts and memories be justified because her goals are noble? She teeters on the brink, steeped in self-doubts, while she tries to adjust to the life at court.
The court is divided too. Many loathe Fire for her father’s sake or for her own scary gift. Others are afraid of her. Still others fall into mindless love with her because of her unrivaled beauty or long to use her for their own agendas. And then there is Prince Brigan. Fire’s frozen heart melts at the mere sight of him, but he hates and distrusts her. Or maybe not …
Fire is a wonderful, multifaceted character, young and unsure of herself, with all the trippings of a teenage girl. Angst and homesickness, loneliness and pride swirl in her soul, but she can’t dwell on her insecurities while her country is battered on all sides by treacherous enemies. A pivot of the plot, she is thrust into the maelstrom of events and she has no choice in the matter. If she doesn’t use her hated mental abilities, disaster looms.
The book is uneven. The first third of it is utterly absorbing. I started reading and couldn’t stop for hours. Although the events are small, Fire’s character unfolds in details, undiluted by external conflicts. Then the middle comes, she travels to court, and the story sags. Fire is floundering, her doubts and qualms ripple through the plot, with nothing much happening. The last third picks up speed and tension again, and the action finally explodes: a kidnapping, an assassination, a daring escape and much more.
And through it all, Fire stands out like a torch, lighting up this dark-ish, tumultuous tale. Everything that makes this book a good read can be attributed to its young heroine.