In Southland, the fictional but somewhat familiar country introduced in Elizabeth Knox’s ‘Dreamhunter’ tales, Canny is transfixed what she calls the Extra: writing that hangs in the air. Like the air, it can’t be seen by most people.
When she travels with her half-brother and his girlfriend to a mining town for an oral history project, they are unexpectedly held up in the Zarene Valley. There, an unusual community comes under the strict control of its elders, and Canny learns that the Extra is part of every day ... something she can use herself.
Our heroine is Canny by nature as well as by name. She’s a calculating individual, literally and figuratively. A maths whizz (wizard?), she also has skills of manipulation that far exceed the considerable abilities of the average teenager. And yet in Knox’s hands she is a very believable 16-year-old.
Written for young adults, Mortal fire has depth, layers and nuancing that I find lacking in some popular YA novels, such as Veronica Roth’s Divergent. Knox’s characters are more than a means to an end, and her purpose goes beyond meeting a target market.
Turning her pages, we delve into a complex world, one that Knox says draws on games of imagination from her childhood.
The experience of reading Mortal fire reminds me a little of first encountering Northern lights (aka The golden compass), the first part of Philip Pullman’s brilliant ‘His dark materials’ trilogy, with its equally precocious and mysterious heroine Lyra. It was spellbinding; it rewarded rereading. So might this book.
Title: Mortal fire
Author: Elizabeth Knox
Recommended by Claire G, Grey Lynn Library
Claire G reads widely, writes narrowly, pampers her poultry and neglects her garden. She thinks Leonard Cohen was right about there being a crack in everything.