DNF Review: Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox

Friday, March 27, 2015
Title: Mortal Fire
Author: Elizabeth Knox
Genre: young adult, fantasy, supernatural
Series: N/A
Pages: 448
Published: expected June 11 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2/5

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 world of intrigue in Mortal Fire.

I tried twice to read this novel. The first time, my ARC expired before I made it 50 pages. When I saw Macmillan had re-added to their downloadable ARCs on NetGalley, I hit that download button so fast. I had been anticipating this novel for months -- especially since the cover was revealed. A fantasy-ish tale with close ties to the world we live in? It all sounds and looks so good on paper. But I was disappointed in just how dry, and yes, boring, Mortal Fire tuned out to be once I had the chance to truly sit down and get into the novel. 

I can easily see why other readers will have an easier and better experience with Knox's latest than I did. I am sure she eventually gets to the story promised in the4  blurb, but I just couldn't keep reading. If I put a book down and then immediately reject the idea of picking it back up, that's a bad sign. An even worse sign is putting it down and trying to forget I even started it in the first place. Mortal Fire is dry, long-winded, and pretty aimless for the first 200 pages. It got the point where I felt the plot had stalled before it even really began. I expected the magic to be more of a focus once the Zarenes are introduced, but it wasn't enough.

The world Canny lives in is interesting, but there's not a lot of detail or time spent on fleshing it out and showing what differs Southland from the real world we live in. Like the worldbuilding, Canny's characterization leaves a lot to be desired. There are some bare bones supplied to give her somewhat of a personality, but she's pretty dead on the page. There's no life to her - she's smart and dutiful and a good friend, but there's not a lot to relate to, or invest in. Her interactions with her family - from her stepbrother to her conniving mom - didn't ring true or authentic for me. I just couldn't buy into the way this family worked or thought and that presented a large problem.

Mortal Fire, from the way it is written (3rd person can be difficult for me) to the characters themselves, was a miss for me. But I fully take the blame - it's me, not you. I was too bored to continue and thus I DNF'd. Good luck out there, Canny and Co., I hope you find an audience that will respond to you better than I could. I guess the ARC expiring the first time was a sign it was just not meant to be for me and this particular story.

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