Tag Archives: L. Lee Lowe

Mortal Fire

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.

Elizabeth Knox, Mortal Fire

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.)

Thanks, Dina

The Retired Children’s Librarian laughed with glee when I told her of our plans. That’s Son and me. We’re in Germany this weekend, and I’m trusting my baby boy to sprechen for me, as he ought to be less rusty than I am. At the height of his studies he also had got to be a lot better than the old witch.

Roger Whittaker and CultureWitch

Where was I? Oh yes, Germany. We are here for Roger Whittaker, as all you dear friends will have guessed. The best singer in the world is doing another last tour, and in case it is, here we are. And Son is not too cool for Roger. Or me.

So, Germany, where we are staying with someone I found on the internet. I do everything I tell others not to do. Roger is singing in Köln, and Bonn is close enough, so we have come laden with books for another book lover. I met L Lee Lowe over on Dina Rabinovitch’s blog. In those days Lee had another blog, but you can’t keep a good writer down, so she has moved on to somewhere she can publish her stuff (like real novels) online.

And isn’t that what’s so fantastic about the internet? It is very bad, or can be. But you can also meet like minded people who unfortunately don’t live next door to you or work in the same office or have children in the same school as yours.

It is now far too long since Dina died in 2007, but what an amazing thing she left behind! Neither Lee nor I met her in the flesh, but from that online presence something has grown. I found someone I could send my child to for a language booster, someone who actively seemed to want to entertain the Resident IT Consultant when he was in Germany on business, someone who introduced me to Nick Green and his marvellous books, and someone who will take some of my surplus off my hands. And still offer hospitality to a mad witch and her Son.


I’m forever grateful to Dina.

Bookwitch bites #2

As my arms grew longer and longer on Thursday afternoon, I found myself looking forward to meeting up with Nick Green with rather more fervour than I had anticipated. It was a case of a paperback relay across Europe, and even the Atlantic. Some of the books I’ve finished with are going to Germany, and Nick was the intermediary for this. He will store the 27 books in the cupboard where he keeps his biscuits, or so he said. And some time next week Lee will turn up from Germany and retrieve them. She reckoned she could manage 8 kg of books, but the bad news is I only made it to 6,5 kg. I’m glad it was no more, if only for the sake of my arms.

The Atlantic book selection was for Siobhan Dowd’s New York pal Helen, who very rashly agreed to take some. Once I’d disposed of both book bags I was back to more elegant travelling, with just my own bag containing toothbrush and a couple of books to read on the train.

Meeting Nick was lovely for more reasons than length of arms. We had tea at a coffee place near his day job. Or it was more that I asked him to get me tea and a piece of cake, and the nice man obeyed. He didn’t even take my money, saying tea was far cheaper than rounds in the pub.

We talked about his writing, naturally. For someone with a ‘proper’ job, as well as a young family, he writes very fast. There is the reissue of Cat Kin in May, and the very happy news is that he will actually write the third part of the trilogy now. And there is another as yet unpublished trilogy on the way, so plenty to look forward to.

The previous day there had been more Siobhan Dowd news. It seems she left a partly written novel behind, and Patrick Ness will undertake the job of finishing writing her book. Unlike Siobhan’s other books this one will be illustrated.  There was quite a bit of discussion about this fresh piece of news at the Unicorn Theatre. As a fan both of Siobhan’s and of Patrick’s I hope this will work out well. I’m not convinced about people finishing someone else’s book, but I’m willing to keep an open mind about it.

Mortal Ghost

So what did I say about friendship and reviewing the other day?

I’ll come clean here and say that Mortal Ghost by L. Lee Lowe is not just a book written by someone I know and like, but it’s a self published novel, so didn’t come my way via a publisher. In fact, when we first met on the Internet, Lee had already got some of Mortal Ghost to read online, but although I read the first couple of chapters, I really didn’t want to read on screen.

It was also available to download, but again, I didn’t want to print a whole book. (Good thing, perhaps, as it’s really quite long.) Then one day a Lulu printed copy plopped through the letterbox, courtesy of Lee herself, which was very kind.

Lee has some strong opinions on the publishing world, and wants to do things on her own terms, which is why she is happy to let people download her books for free, rather than worrying about making money. I can understand her yearning for independence, apart possibly for the money aspect.

Mortal Ghost is a novel with a supernatural element to it, rather in the vein of a Tim Bowler story. It’s about the teenager Jesse, who sleeps rough and is found by Sarah in the park. She brings him home with her. Her family is anything but conventional, so this works well. Then many, many inexplicable things happen, and it’s as hard for the reader to know what’s going on, as it is for Sarah and her family and for Jesse himself.

Jesse has a violent past, and odd pieces of violence keep cropping up wherever he goes. It took me a while to understand that I could never work out where this story was going. Knowing Lee’s background as an American living in Germany, I still found it hard to place where the book is set. It could be Britain, or it could be intentionally non-specific. I feel there is a mix of all three countries.

I was beset by doubts through a lot of the book, but in the end the plot works. Whether a conventional publisher would have allowed it is another question.

As for its self published status, you can tell that it would have been different had an editor been involved. I struggled a little with the fast changing points of view. They work in this story, but could have been clearer. Similarly there were other details that would be obvious to Lee, because it was all in her head, but which would have benefitted from an outsider’s perspective.

But all in all I have to admire Lee for all her work, done without all the usual publishing support. It takes someone strong to do that. Someone unusual. The slightly flaky mother in the story reminded me of someone…

Here is a link to a recent interview with Lee, which will tell you more about her and her writing. (I went looking for a photo of Lee, and I found one eventually, but decided not to in the end.)