Let me tell you, I have had to twist arms to get this review. My very dear friend L Lee Löwe reads a lot and she reads well, and she has a lot of opinions on all that she reads. But she has this strange notion about writing reviews. She thinks they have to be good. So there is no problem, because this is a good review. Both in the respect of it being favourable, but mostly because it is well written.
I know very little about Elizabeth Knox, but she happens to be a favourite of Lee’s. I know that much, because when I sent Daughter to her for a visit, she returned home with a copy of one of Elizabeth’s books, and simply had to buy the next one… And the trouble is, after reading the excerpt from Mortal Fire, I happen to think it looks really very tempting.
Before I ado even more, here is the review:
“In a perfect world, we’d all be canny. Or Canny, the heroine of Elizabeth Knox’s latest YA novel, Mortal Fire. Canny is a 16-year-old maths prodigy whose genius is matched by her loyalty to her only friend, Marli, a polio victim confined to an iron lung, and by her own uncanny ability to see Extra – ‘cryptic letters salted like frost between a certain pair of gate posts, or floating like thistledown above the grandstand when she was at the racetrack with Marli’s family’, a script only Canny sees yet whose purpose has always been incomprehensible to her. A fully stand-alone story, Mortal Fire is set in the same alternate South Pacific world as Knox’s award-winning and well-loved Dreamhunter Duet, but about 50 years later.
Canny is obliged by her famously fierce mother and professor father to accompany her stepbrother Sholto and his girlfriend to a remote region of Southland, where they chance upon the Zarene Valley. Canny is left to her own devices while Sholto researches an earlier, and increasingly suspicious, mining disaster for his father. There is magic in the valley, and Canny soon recognises its affinity with her own Extra. As if driven by the power of her name – ‘canny’ derives, via Scots, from the Old English word ‘cunnan’ – she is determined to know more. Once she encounters the reclusive and hostile Zarene family, who use magic signs to protect themselves and their valley, and then the intriguing 17-year-old Ghislain, imprisoned in a house since 1929 by a powerful spell which keeps him from ageing, she learns just how powerful her own magic can be.
And it takes the magic of a fine writer to bring characters as complex, idiosyncratic, and infuriating as Knox’s to life. She writes with a lushness about the natural world which at times can be overwhelming, but we never doubt that we are right there in the valley, struggling alongside Canny to discover her true nature and use it to free the many prisoners in Mortal Fire – her friend Marli, Ghislain, the Zarenes themselves. Life is indeed as intricate as Knox’s plotting, as vivid as her insights, and though the device by which Canny proves to have acted cannily – far-sightedly – seems rather too convenient, and I’d have wished for a glimpse of Ghislain’s despair during the three years which precede the final chapters, Mortal Fire is an exceptional fantasy novel – not perfect, but a perfect choice for the canny (and discerning) reader.
Read an excerpt of Mortal Fire.”
(The book will be published in the US on June 11th.)