June 27, 2013

Mortal Fire - Elizabeth Knox

Mortal Fire - Elizabeth Knox
Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Publication Date: June 11, 2013
Source/Format: Publisher (Thanks Ksenia!) || ARC
[I received this book from the publisher. This in no way affects the thoughts expressed in my review.]

Sixteen-year-old Canny Mochrie's vacation takes a turn when she stumbles upon a mysterious and enchanting valley, occupied almost entirely by children who can perform a special type of magic that tells things how to be stronger and better than they already are. As Canny studies the magic more carefully, she realizes that she not only understands it--she can perform the magic, too, so well that it feels like it has always been a part of her. With the help of an alluring seventeen-year-old boy who is held hostage by a spell that is now more powerful than the people who first placed it, Canny figures out the secrets of this valley and of her own past. (from Goodreads)

I can't quite put my finger on exactly what appealed to me about Mortal Fire. The early chapters were a challenge to get through (in a way a lot like this book), leaving me baffled. Then came the "magical turning point" - the phenomenon when the story pulls one over on you and becomes something you actually like. From that moment on, I was hooked! The novel is unusual, filled with a unique sort of magic and unorthodox characters. It is also complex, with Knox masterfully weaving the relationships between her characters into the layers of stories. Mortal Fire is dreamlike and imaginative, and hard to explain - but I really, really liked it.

The summary provides the barest outline of this story; the author colors it in with careful details, a variety of characters and a liberal sprinkling of twists and turns. Reading this book without knowing exactly what to expect was the best way possible to experience it, at least for me. Sure, it was slightly confusing at first, particularly because the story starts and stops in little fits that don't appear to make too much sense. But unraveling the tale, and actually engaging in the story-telling process was appealing. It felt like the novel asked me to really think as I read it, which I don't encounter very often, but happen to appreciate.

Even as my mind tried to make sense of everything that was presented to me, the author also invited me to step into a world where I was required to suspend my own disbelief. This was mostly because of the magic and the situations it placed the characters in. But I embraced it, let go of my own preconceived ideas of what the magic was like and allowed the author to fill in the gaps for me. This was actually the relaxing part of the novel, which is probably in complete contradiction to the paragraph above, but that's just how it felt. I was fascinated to see how the magic worked in this world, from its foundation to the lore. While the explanations were few and far in between, I still think Knox did a credible job describing it in a way that I could understand.

I suppose now is the right time for me to mention Canny Mochrie. I'm still not sure whether I really liked her or not. She's a decidedly difficult, confusing character, particularly since she seems to be a considerable distance away from the reader. Her insatiable curiosity and intelligence was certainly fascinating; however, these things often got her into trouble, which could have clearly been prevented if common sense had kicked in. Still, the book would not be the adventure it was without Canny's persistence in her pursuit of explanations. She may not be my favorite character, but she's the right sort of character for this tale.

Mortal Fire is a novel that's equal parts thoughtful and inventive. Though it does fall into the category of a book that asks a lot of its readers, the level of engagement is something that I consider a strong point for this novel. There are twists and turns, mostly because of the magic that runs amok, and there are separate stories woven together that need to be unraveled and mulled over and worked out. I loved that this book was a challenging read, but left me feeling utterly satisfied when I turned the last page. It might not be the type of book that everyone will enjoy, but it certainly left me with a very favorable impression.


  1. Really looking forward to reading this one, especially after you review! I love a great magical story---especially one that is inventive and really makes you think!! Great review!

  2. 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.

    Irene Jennings (Express Passport Renewal)

  3. I don't really know what to expect from this book, other than something unique and gaining popularity, and I will keep in that way as you recommend. I do want to read this. It sounds like something I could really enjoy. But again, I hope I can like Canny. If she is both curious and smart that will definitely help.

  4. I like books that are challenging and inventive and just plain different. I'm pumped I have a review copy of Mortal Fire because it sounds like my sort of fantasy book.


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