NYRB Classics collector. Reads anything, so long as it's good. Sometimes historian. Frequently grumpy: you've been warned. Also at aliceunderskies.tumblr.com.
After Graceling's blandness I hadn't planned to seek this "prequel" out, but we got a used copy in my store so I borrowed it on a whim. I'm glad I did--I liked this book much more than I did the first. Fire suffers from many of the same flaws that Katsa does--both have a genetic gift/curse that ostracizes them and gives them endless fountains of angst; both are annoyingly mature for their ages*, and both are in danger of becoming mouthpieces for the author's idea of feminism rather than actual freestanding characters. Luckily, Fire is less annoying than Katsa on all fronts except for her dubious name--but even that was explained (and thus permissible) in ways that "Po" (grr) and "Bitterblue" (grrrrrr) never were. Maybe I was just in a more receptive mood--I hardly read any fiction in November so perhaps I was hungry for it--but overall Fire's inner journey was much more interesting to me than Katsa's ever was. I found her transformation, her eventual acceptance of herself and her abilities, utterly convincing and almost moving. Beyond inner-transformation, the plot wasn't great--random, unnecessary characters from the last book, and a mostly off-page jumble of a war weakened it--but the characters had nice chemistry, and the romance was 100% less hideous than the previous book (in part because neither party was named "Po"). In case it isn't obvious, Cashore's naming habits bother me far more than her stance on sex. I still probably won't read "Bitterblue" because the name makes me feel pukey and I don't think I can stand a whole book of it.
*A note on the ages of the characters: I accept that this is a fantasy medieval society and so it doesn't bother me that characters are sexually active or leading armies at their young ages--it's just that the emotional tone and diction of every teen-aged person in everything Cashore writes reads as much older than their stated ages. Like other reviewers, I wish she'd just write an adult book already.