Mind-blown, Flora Fan
Whew. I feel like I just went through a washing machine. Mortal Fire is probably one of the most interesting books I’ve read (though, seriously, no one word can describe it). The twist of the ending is so strange that it brings a whole new meaning to fantasy. Though a YA novel by genre, Elizabeth Knox’s novel is far from a simple love story, or even a progression of self-discovery. It’s the kind of book that needs reading multiple times.
The main character, Canny Mochrie, is a very, very, complex character. The third person limited point of view does nothing to help the reader understand her thinking.
Perhaps this is how she lives up to her nickname (little note: Canny is only one of the THREE names the main character has. Yep, I know).
Although she is initially presented as a math genius, Canny is revealed to be someone who is more tangled up than the Gordian knot problems she loves so much. In fact, this is how she does math: “Canny never worked through the steps to find the answers. She just fished them up, as if she were looking down into a dark pool knowing that the right fish was lurking there.” I mean, TEACH ME PLEASE.
Born to a famed Shackle Islander and an unknown father, Canny has always felt out of place in the small town of Castlereagh, a predominantly Pakeha city in late 1950s Southland, New Zealand. With the additions of an (also famous) Pakeha stepfather and stepbrother, Canny is the embodiment of an unclear identity. And this does not include her Extra sense.
Like the book itself, “Extra” is undefinable and more than just a little confusing. It is the fantastical element that makes no sense until the reader connects the dots together. I cannot emphasis how crucial to understanding the plot (just the plot!) reading with patience and scrutiny is. Knox’s craft is evident, especially with the development of Canny’s character. The reader is always one step behind Canny, and her natural ingenuity is revealed.
Multiple themes are touched upon within Mortal Fire. Race, gender, freedom, loyalty … it’s no wonder Canny is such a conflicted person.
With these big questions to answer, her attraction to Ghislain, a boy her equal in many ways, is not the centre of the story. That doesn’t mean there is no romance, though. Indeed, the ending is so touching I would recommend this book for readers just for them to get there.
Canny’s story is no quick read. To fully appreciate Knox’s writing, it is almost necessary to reflect after every chapter. Although it could be a slow read, getting bored is not a possibility. There were the oddest lines that made me blink twice, and dabs of the quirkiest humour in the plot. Canny’s world with Zarene magic is at times too huge to take in all at once, and her romance with Ghislain too powerful for the human heart. Knox gives the reader her complete faith that the intricacies of her craft will be understood. Mortal Fire left me mind-blown, and I hope you will find it exquisite too.
Flora Fan is 16 years old, from Auckland.