This is only Cashore's second book, but damn, the lady can write. As I've said many times before, young adult fantasy gets very short shrift, and it's books like this that help dispel the stigma of YA. Fire is the companion novel to Cashore's first book, Graceling. It takes place a bit before Katsa's time (the protagonist of Graceling) in the kingdom of The Dells, in which monsters reside. Monsters are brightly furred/feathered/haired creatures of any kind of animal. They are especially intelligent, fierce and dangerous, and the human monsters are no different. There is only one living in The Dells, Fire (so named for her incredibly colored hair), who is both blessed and afflicted with extreme beauty, the gift of controlling others' minds, and a polarizing effect on people who have not learned to protect their minds from her. She wants nothing more than to be left alone to play her music and live her life, but her nature gets her pulled into the volatile politics of a nation on the brink of civil war.
Cashore's writing is astonishing. While many children's authors shy away from or circle around difficult tactics, or come at them in strange sideways manners, Cashore jumps into them. Her humor and description is biting and fresh, never dull or repetitive. Her characters are beautifully flawed and the story is so easy to fall into. It took me two days to read this wonderful book, and I cannot wait to read Bitterblue, the sequel to Graceling.