Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox
Summary: Canny and her brother venture to a small, remote town in order to interview people who survived a coal mining explosion. As they approach the area, Canny notices things that her brother doesn’t—like the sigils scribbled on every surface. Canny’s perceptiveness stirs up trouble within the town, especially when she begins experimenting with the sigils herself.
My thoughts: Elizabeth Knox’s Dreamhunter books were my absolute favorite in high school, and are still close to my heart today. Imagine my excitement when I found out that her new book was set in the same world! For those who have read Dreamhunter, you’ll notice little Easter eggs here and there. Though the era of the dreamhunters is over, they are still a large part of the Southland’s history.
History itself is a huge theme in Mortal Fire: whether it should bind our current practices to tradition; whether history can be rewritten; and how small town politics are very much imbued with the past. Mortal Fire is also set in the 1950’s, and although it takes place in an alternate reality, some things remain the same, like the stigma attached to having darker skin (Canny is a person of color).
Knox’s writing has a fairytale feel to it, but Mortal Fire isn’t a whimsical book: there is hardness beneath the surface. The darkness of Mortal Fire is more thematic than blatant, which makes for a complex read.
The fairytale-ness of Mortal Fire is, I think, furthered by Canny’s naiveté. She’s sixteen, but she almost reads as if she’s twelve. This contributes to a major theme—being stuck, whether forcibly or by choice—and it also gives Canny a great deal of growing to do throughout the story. Everything in Knox’s books seems to be purposeful, including Canny’s extra-juvenile portrayal.
Mortal Fire is an excellent choice for fantasy readers, especially those fond of complex storylines and devious plot twists. Highly recommended!