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 of intrigue in Mortal Fire.
Like a Sunday afternoon stroll, Knox's story sets a meandering pace with an uncertain destination a page-turner this is not. Given time and an eye for detail, however, Canny Mochrie's summer odyssey unfolds from a dry depiction of school life in 1959 to a lushly strange dream in a Shangri-La valley. The novel is set in Southland, the lightly fictionalized New Zealand Knox created for Dreamhunter and Dreamquake. Canny is a 16-year-old Ma'eu, taciturn, antisocial, and exceptionally gifted in math. References to Canny's "Extra," almost incidental at first, gradually expand as she unwillingly accompanies her college-age stepbrother and his girlfriend on a research trip to a remote town. The Extra is an ethereal script that Canny alone can see, attached to plants, buildings, or nothing at all. When the three come upon a valley dense with the Extra, Canny realizes that there is more to her visions than her own oddness there are people, the Zarenes, whose existence is interwoven with this magical language. But what is Canny's connection to them? Dreamlike yet clear-eyed, Canny's encounter rewards those who give themselves over to Knox's storytelling. Ages 12 up.