Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Book Review: Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox

Well, I knew I would love this book even before I began.  I'm a big fan of Elizabeth Knox, in particular the Dreamhunter series (still haven't read The Vintner's Luck - for shame) and so I looked forward to this book with anticipation running high.

It did not disappoint.

Mortal Fire is set in the same world as the Dreamhunter books though has a very different feel, and a whole bunch of new characters.  Knox brings to life a very atypical protagonist in the form of Canny, a mathematic genius, set apart from the secondary characters through her inability to produce the emotional responses they expect, and of course her ability to perceive a certain type of magic undetectable to others.  When her step-brother and his often hostile girlfriend take Canny camping in a remote valley, Canny finds herself surrounded by magic and people with the ability to control it.  Quite by accident, she throws herself into the path a seriously studly studmuffin who is imprisoned by the very magic that he is able to create, and at last begins to unlock they mystery of her 'Extra'.

If you have encountered Knox before, you will already have noted her incredible ability to invoke a powerful setting for a story.  The Zarene Valley is just such a setting, and it was so blissful to sink into that scenery every single night.  With far less of the unsettling starkness of 'The Place' (Dreamhunter - though I loved that setting too), the valley has all of the same atmosphere and dreamy magic.  Knox actively brings the reader into these environments in such a way that you almost feel as if all of your senses are in use.

Canny, unusual and somewhat inaccessible in some ways, has unexpectedly taken her place as a favourite fictional character of mine.  Complex, powerful and vulnerable, there is an authenticity about this character that is actually becoming increasingly rare in recent Young Adult fiction.  This wasn't a character that I immediately recognised, which made the getting-to-know all the more exciting.

Also of note is the gentle pacing of this novel.  After reading several incredibly fast-paced YA novels recently, it was a breath of fresh air to read a story that took it's time in the telling.  One that lingered lovingly in it's setting, cleverly unfurling it's tentacles at just the right moment.  I found myself breathing out great sighs of pleasure each night as I settled in to read.  The mysteries grew as quickly as my curiosity, and I never once found myself ahead of the author, predicting each outcome.  In fact, I have never been so surprised by the ending of a YA novel, and I mean that in the very best of ways.

Picnic blanket, book, bliss...

Super, super beautiful, unpredictable and memorable.  I am very grateful to Gecko Press who sent me this review copy, what a treat.  If you have read the book - there are some interesting insights into some of Knox's choices here on her blog.  Happy reading x