Fire by Kristin Cashore
LibraryThing tags, if I had put this on LibraryThing: Fantasy, YA, Romance, Beauty, Family, Dysfunction, Sonderbook (click here for Sondy's review)
This is a companion to Graceling, and can be read before or after, although it seems to me one mystery in Graceling would be a touch easier to solve after reading Fire. The ease of solving that particular mystery isn't integral to the enjoyment of Graceling anyway.
They take place in the same world, but Fire is set in the Dells, which are separated by almost impassable mountains from the countries in Graceling, so the culture and world are rather different. Most importantly, instead of Gracelings, the Dells have monsters. "Monster" has a very specific meaning in this world. "It was their unusual coloration that identified them as monsters, because in every other physical particular they were like normal Dellian animals. They had the shape of Dellian horses, Dellian turtles, mountain lions, raptors, dragonflies, bears; but they were ranges of fuchsia, turquoise, bronze, iridescent green. A dappled gray horse in the Dells was a horse. A sunset orange horse was a monster." The herbiverous monsters, the mouse and rabbit monsters, are harmless; but the carniverous ones are much more dangerous than their animal counterparts. "They craved human flesh, and for the flesh of other monsters they were positively frantic." In addition, monsters are so beautiful that they have the power to stun and control the minds of those without the experience and training to resist them. Monsters come from monsters. They can breed with the non-monsters of their species, but the babies are always monsters.
The main character, Fire, is the last known remaining human monster (with bright hair and eyes), with all of the baggage that suggests. She may be gorgeous, but she has to deal with people loving her for that instead of for who she is, or wanting to possess her, or just out and out hating her for it. Monsters are a bigger threat and danger to her than to anyone else, since they're crazy for the flesh of other monsters. And she has to figure out how to deal with her power. Her first impulse is not to use it at all, because Fire's father was a monster--both in the Dellian sense of the word and in the more metaphorical sense. As you might guess, that's an important theme to the book.
As my sister pointed out in her review, there's quite a lot of casual sex in the book; not on camera, but still, be warned. While there certainly are some issues with that, and I think the consequences would sometimes be different than what Cashore portrays (affairs can actually be quite traumatic for those cheated on, something I almost forgot until I read Sondy's review, since it's not a side of things much explored in Fire), it makes some sense for the story, too, as the book concerns at least three bad fathers and the legacy they leave their children, including how their sons and daughters deal as they grow with love, sex and parenting children of their own. So, although not all of the extra-marital sex is portrayed as a Bad Thing, not all of it is portrayed as Good, either. And some of it is mixed, which fits with themes about the mixed nature of good and evil people, that none of them are all good or all bad (although some are certainly more evil than others!).
So with that caveat, Fire is, like Graceling, powerful, heart-breaking, beautiful, entertaining, thought-provoking and romantic. Enjoy!
“The city folk adorned themselves with even more monster trappings than the court folk, and with much less concern for the aesthetic integration of the whole. Feathers jammed randomly into buttonholes; jewelry, quite stunning really, necklaces and earrings made of monster shells, worn by a baker woman over her mixing bowl and covered in flour dust. A woman wearing a blue-violet wig from the fur of some silky monster beast, a rabbit or a dog, the hair short and uneven and sticking out in spikes. And the woman’s face underneath quite plain, the overall effect tending to an odd caricature of Fire herself; but still, there was no denying she had something lovely atop her head.”