Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: Mortal Fire

Mortal Fire
By Elizabeth Knox
Published 2013 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Canny Mochrie is stubborn and brilliant - so when she stumbles upon a valley full of magic, she's going to figure out how it works, even if the people of the valley start threatening her. Things are made more complicated by a mysterious boy trapped by the magic, a boy Canny feels a strong connection to. With his help, she'll uncover the magic's secrets and, perhaps, find a way to set him free.

You guys. We have to be real for a minute here. So, I've never read Elizabeth Knox before, but her previous books sounded intriguing and have been on my radar for a long time. When I saw this title pop up in likely Printz contender discussions last year, I was thrilled I'd managed to snag an ARC at TLA. And then, the ridiculousness happened.

The ridiculousness is this: I started this book in July of last year (that's 2013, just to be clear). I hated it. I hated it from page one. I still hated it by page 250, and probably hated it for quite a few pages after that. So, about halfway through, I just put it aside. But I never said I was quitting it. It is really hard for me to quit a book, particularly when I've invested any kind of time in it, and particularly when it is getting so much positive buzz. So, I never thought to myself I was putting it down for good. It's pretty much the first book I picked back up when I started my year of no library books - I was determined to put this bad boy to rest. And, in more ridiculousness, this book proved to me why I hate to give up on books. Because, by the time I finished it, I didn't hate it anymore.

So, let's try to break it down a bit. Why, exactly, did I despise this book so much (I think, over on Someday My Printz Will Come I actually used the word abhor)? Well, it's perhaps the most slow-paced book I've ever read. Seriously. By the time I put it down that first time, nearly nothing exciting had happened. It's glacial. Everything is just so drawn out; I had a hard time staying interested. My second problem was the characters - couldn't stand 'em. Any of them. But especially not Canny. And, you know, she's the main character and all. I found her so bleeding obnoxious that I had zero desire to keep reading her story. Her brother and his girlfriend were not much better, and neither were any of the Zarenes, though, eventually, I became interested in their story. And thirdly, this book is just confusing. Apparently, Knox's books are usually set in an alternate version of New Zealand called Southland, which incorporates magic into the real world. Additionally, this book takes place in the 1950s version of this world. I found the whole thing confusing as there was little to no explanation of the magic or how it worked until very far into the book. I would have liked some clarification earlier on. All in all, this book and I were just not getting along. So, I set it down.

Now, to the beginning of 2014, when I am determined to clear out some of the books in my house and pass them on to new homes. I declare this the year of no library books. And this book sits on my desk at work, haunting me with its bookmark halfway through. So, I pick it up again.

And I still can't stand Canny or Sholto or Susan or nearly any of the Zarenes. I still find the magic mostly just confusing, almost belligerently so. But, the action starts to pick up pace. We find out more of the history of the Zarenes, in particular, the strange one that Canny has discovered trapped in a house by magic. And by the time I finish soldiering through those last 200 pages or so, I find myself telling people I liked the book.

What gives? Well, I can't exactly say. But something happened in that second half that almost made me forget how much I hated the first half (almost, but I hated it so much that it would be pretty near impossible for me to completely forget). I guess the story picking up its pace just grabbed me in a way that made me enjoy that last bit. I'd almost rather that I hated the book all the way through the end - it's really difficult for me to quit reading a book I'm not enjoying and in a couple of cases, I've actually changed my mind about one by the time I got to the end. This makes it even more difficult in the future for me to quit books I don't like. So, curse you, Elizabeth Knox, for making me change my mind about this book!

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

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