Thursday, June 6, 2013

ARC Review: Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox

Mortal Fire
Author: Elizabeth Knox
Publication: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (June 11, 2013)

Description: Sixteen-year-old Canny Mochrie's parents go away on a vacation, so they send her off on a trip of her own with her step-brother Sholto and his opinionated girlfriend Susan, who are interviewing the survivors of a strange coal mine disaster and researching local folklore in 1959 Southland, New Zealand. Canny is left to herself to wander in a mysterious and enchanting nearby valley, occupied almost entirely by children who all have the last name Zarene and can perform a special type of magic that tells things how to be stronger and better than they already are. With the help of a seventeen-year-old boy who is held hostage in a hidden away house by a spell that is now more powerful than the people who first placed it, Canny figures out why she, too, can use this special magic that only Zarenes should know, and where she really came from. Printz Honor author Elizabeth Knox has created another stunning world of intrigue in Mortal Fire.

My Thoughts: MORTAL FIRE was different than anything else I can remember reading. I almost didn't finish this one. I thought that the beginning had a glacially slow pace and was incredibly confusing. The author's note at the beginning told me that it took place in 1959 and in a world that was similar to ours but had some magical differences. Just a few pages in, I was longing for an "infodump." An infodumps is a term that I have heard mostly in science fiction. It is where one character tells another the essential background information that the reader needs to understand what is happening. 

As it is, I was floundering. I couldn't tell if the disconnect I was feeling was because I didn't understand the world or if it was cultural or if it was because of the viewpoint character. Canny Mochrie was portrayed as a math genius who didn't interact well with others and who usually had a blank, expressionless face. She was socially isolated because her best, and only, friend had contracted polio and was in the hospital in an iron lung. Canny was also isolated because she was from one of the native tribes rather than of European descent which made her a member of a minority group. Her stepfather is a college professor and her mother's great claim to fame is that she rescued some downed British airmen during World War II and brought them to safety by taking them over 500 miles in an outrigger canoe. Her heroics at the age of seventeen (or so) made her a national heroine. Canny feels lost in the overpowering shadow her mother casts. 

The pace of the story picks up when Canny travels with her older stepbrother Sholto and his girlfriend Susan to the Zarene Valley where Sholto is doing some research for his father. While Sholto interviews survivors of a 1929 coal mining disaster, Canny explores. She has always been able to see something "extra" which also made her different. Once she comes to the valley, she sees that extra which the residents use to perform magic. She quickly picks up the language and the gesturing needed to do the spells. Her exploration also leads her to a house the magically repairs and renews itself and the seventeen-year-old boy who has been imprisoned there since 1929. I think that the pace picked up for me because Canny was not the only viewpoint character. We also got Ghislaine's, the imprisoned boy, viewpoint and some of Sholto's viewpoint and the viewpoint of some of the adults in the Zarene Valley.

The story was very complex. It requires a reader who will get involved enough in the story to concentrate and keep the various plot threads untangled. Since, at one point in the story, Canny's spirit travels in time, this isn't always easy to do. Persistent readers will enjoy the challenge. 

Favorite Quote:
She cried out and fell. He caught her. He held her and she heard him saying, "Sorry. I'm sorry." Then her brain mercifully shut down into nothing more than the pain and nausea and animal misery of the worst migraine of her life. 
I received this ARC from Macmillan Children's Publishing Group. You can buy your copy here.

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