Even though Mortal Fire isn’t out till June I want to write about it now to get the word out as it is simply spectacular. And to encourage those fantasy fans among you unfamiliar with Elizabeth Knox to go and read her two other also fabulous young adult books, Dreamhunter and Dreamquake, the later a Printz honor book. What, you may wonder, are they like? I would agree with Knox’s own answer (about Mortal Fire, but also applicable to the earlier books in my opinion) in this recent interview:
Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief books, because of the machinations, vigour and sensitivity of the main character (plus the tricky romance). And my view of the magic as a kind of science owes a lot to Margaret Mahy (well—all my books do!)
As for Mortal Fire it is set in the same alternate New Zealand world of the Dreamhunter Duet, but later in 1959. The heroine is Canny, a sixteen year old math genius and daughter of a Shackle Islander (e.g. Pacific Islander in our world) who is known far and wide for her extraordinary act of heroism during the war. The novel begins as Canny, having just graduated from high school, reluctantly joins her stepbrother Sholto and his girlfriend Susan on a research trip to Southland to interview survivors of a horrific mine disaster and investigate local folklore.
Upon arrival Canny discovers the Zarene family, magic, and dark secrets, among them seventeen year old Ghislain who has been magically imprisoned by his family for something he did long ago. Canny discovers that she has even stronger magical talents than the Zarenes and quickly learns to use them. Why she has them and what she does with them are the center of this whirling complex and glorious story.
Knox, as she did in the Dreamhunter books, creates a mesmerizing world in which magic is real, powerful, disturbing, and profoundly spiritual. Canny is a remarkable character, tough, smart, and a teenager in all her complexity. The other characters are richly drawn as well from the intriguing Ghislain to the caring Sholto. The contrast between Ghislain and his siblings and Canny and Sholto is starkly and movingly rendered. Knox also writes like a dream, her descriptions of the natural world are superb as is her elegant development of the different and twisty plot lines of the story.
Have I piqued your interest? Are you frustrated that you have to wait till June? I hope so. Because then you will go right now, I mean RIGHT NOW, and read the Dreamhunter Duet. And then I hope you will agree with me that Knox is one absolutely fabulous writer.