Trust in Me is Wait for You told from Cam’s point of view... which sounds more exciting than it actually is.
I did enjoy this book, but certainly not...moreTrust in Me is Wait for You told from Cam’s point of view... which sounds more exciting than it actually is.
I did enjoy this book, but certainly not as much as I thought I would. Wait for You, despite its predictability and lack of originality, was pure entertainment for me, whereas Trust in Me, essentially the same story retold, had much more work to do. This time around, I wasn’t turning the pages for the story (I knew it all already), and so felt there was little to hold onto at first. It takes a while for Cam’s voice to catch up with the personality formed in Wait for You, and with the repetitiveness of the plot, this book does carry a bit of a pointless feel at times.
It isn’t long-lived, however, and Cam does eventually manage to turn the entertainment-factor up a notch. While I can’t say that I was ever fully engrossed or impressed, there is a certain sweetness to the romance that makes it enjoyable to experience again. It’s interesting to see things from Cam’s point of view, despite that removing some of the mystery, but I imagine that this would have worked even better had there been a larger portion of new scenes (i.e those that we haven’t already experienced in Wait for You through Avery’s point of view).
Ultimately though, I don’t feel like I’ve gained a great deal from reading this. It’s a quick and fairly satisfying book, but not much more. (less)
“We need the powerful ones... Because it’s coming. It’s coming and they can stop it.”
Creativity abounds in Laure Eve’s Fearsome Dreamer. It’...more3.5 stars
“We need the powerful ones... Because it’s coming. It’s coming and they can stop it.”
Creativity abounds in Laure Eve’s Fearsome Dreamer. It’s an unquestionably ambitious and imaginative debut novel, full of interesting ideas and comfortably touching on a blend of different genres. The series potential is clear from the start, and the cinematic potential clear soon after. It’s the sort of read that I imagine escapists will cherish, and the sort of book that I imagine could be perfect with just a little more work. I certainly had a lot of fun reading it, in immersing myself in such an original world, but I do think there is definite room for improvement.
The high points lie in interweaving of the diverse range of concepts. We have a little of everything – magic, politics, dreamwalking, domed cities, virtual reality realms, romance, and more! The story unravels in a world where an alternate history has led to England becoming Angle Tar, a fiercely independent and isolated island. This is where main character and apprentice hedgewitch Vela Rue lives with her dreams and daydreams of sprites and freshwater mermaids. The rest is World, an alliance of countries and the once war-enemy of Angle Tar. In World, where travel and transport is unheard of, the only place for fantasy is in Life, a virtual reality realm reached via implant. This is where we meet White, a Jumper and one of the Talented, while he is arrested for allegedly conspiring with the Technophobes. Connecting them together is a man named Frith, a recruiter of Talented, and an Angle Tarain agent for the mysterious Castle.
It’s a complicated creation that Laure Eve has churned together here, but definitely an exciting and absorbing one. Much of our time is spent in Angle Tar, in a Capital university with a department for the training and development of Talent. It’s here that Rue and White meet, both being one of the rare Talented who can Jump and transport themselves in the blink of an eye. We follow the story from both points of view – and also from Frith’s perspective, too – and get a glimpse into their tense relationship from all sides. With Rue being quite petulant at times (or ignorant and wistful as others have called it), and White being a mostly hard-bitten and careful character, their personalities are almost opposites and create one of my favourite setups for a romance. Although the characters here are not outstandingly easy to connect with at first, I do like them all, and think that Eve has put the third person narrative to use rather well.
The story does get off to a slow start. Not a great deal takes place plot-wise until the very end of the journey, but even then the progression feels disappointingly slight (particularly for such a grand idea of a book). The climactic point isn’t as pronounced as might be expected, and instead, we’re left with what essentially feels more like an introductory novel to the next book – rather than a strong first instalment. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the stakes have been laid and are on the verge of playing a more important role in the sequel. (Hopefully we’ll see a little more forward momentum with the last-minute fuel added on the final page.) Something else that I think could do with some polishing here is the handling and indication of the passage of time. There is a slight lack of fluidity and structure to the tale on occasion, which perhaps goes hand in hand with the poor plot movement. I also noticed some issues with tense – for example, during recounts, and the transitions in and out of these.
Another thing that takes some getting used to is the prose and dialogue, particularly when we’re with Rue. Eve’s play on language comes across somewhat stiff and awkward at first – with the ‘hit and miss grammar’ as White helpfully calls it – but it does fit the characters and the tone of the story quite nicely after a while. There are still brief moments when the overuse of ‘well’ and ‘so’ make little sense at all, and moments when a misplaced comma results in an awkward sentence construction, but I imagine that the more flexible of readers will be able to ignore this easily enough. The only one other area that I think could be slightly better is the world-building. The overarching concepts and ideas are fantastic, but the actual execution, and the nitty-gritty details that make it count, could be just a little more enhanced. The descriptions are lacking a precision or detail necessary for painting a vivid mental picture. I still don’t feel like I quite know what the different parts of Angle Tar look like.
Those things aside – and they are quite a few things, admittedly! – I do think Fearsome Dreamer is a perfectly solid and decent read. It might not have been perfect (and I hope that the next book will be stronger), but for a first attempt, it’s not bad at all. What was lacking here was just about made up for with Laure Eve’s exciting and fresh imagination. I’m sure that I’ll be following the rest of the series.
This was fantastic! Such a masterfully told and wonderfully written story, and quite unlike anything that I've read in a...more4.5 stars for the second half.
This was fantastic! Such a masterfully told and wonderfully written story, and quite unlike anything that I've read in a while too.
Brilliant attention to detail, from the historical setting to the Icelandic culture and names (though I must confess that I butchered much of the pronunciation to begin with).
The only slight issue I had is that it took me a handful of chapters to fully invest in the story. Other than that, I really couldn't be more impressed. Burial Rites is a remarkable debut novel from a brilliantly talented author. I sure hope it will get the attention that it undoubtedly deserves. (less)
A Really Awesome Mess is, in a lot of ways, the exact opposite of what usually tends to work for me. In retrospect, even the book description is nothi...moreA Really Awesome Mess is, in a lot of ways, the exact opposite of what usually tends to work for me. In retrospect, even the book description is nothing less than unappealing (with perhaps the exception of the laugh-out-loud statement), which raises the obvious question of why I even bothered. (It’s best not to ask, really; I’m still working that one out.) While the random effort on my part may not have fully paid off – unfortunately, the book as a whole is pretty unremarkable – there are enough fun and engaging moments dispersed throughout to keep it from being a complete waste of time. If nothing else, A Really Awesome Mess is capable of evoking a healthy grin or two, particularly at the start, and while it may not be an utterly outstanding contemporary tale, it isn’t a poor choice for a quick, I-don’t-want-to-think-too-hard kind of read, either.
As the vast majority of the story takes place at Heartland Academy, a middle-of-nowhere reform school, we do touch on a whole range of mental and health issues – everything from anger management, eating disorders and self-appreciation – but very little (believable) substance is given to these threads to make them feel significant. Instead, we get vomit and porn, plenty of Harry Potter references, a group of volatile characters on a break-out mission, and a stolen pig named Willy. This isn’t a book that is teeming in logic and intelligence, but, thankfully enough, it doesn’t need to be. Admittedly the whole thing is outrageously unrealistic – we’re talking about trained professionals being completely oblivious to the presence of a pig in a reform school – yet some difficult-to-define part of that ridiculousness is strangely pleasing. The sarcasm and humour is present here in bucket-loads and it’s difficult not to smile after a while, no matter how much reason and common sense may be telling you to do otherwise.
The characters are not obviously likeable, but they are amusing in their own right and do manage to claim and hold attention. While neither Emmy nor Justin (the two main protagonists) are particularly well-defined, both manage to narrate the story with ease and have straight-forward voices that are strangely infectious. We also meet a handful of other characters, from mute, pig-loving Jenny to ‘psycho’ Diana. The group dynamics are perhaps the better aspects of the book, with the character interactions ranging from hilarious to genuinely interesting. They are a racially diverse and active bunch, too. One thing that is easy to appreciate is the brutally honest references to oral sex, ethnic stereotyping and other generally unmentionable topics. Although this is not quite a defining highlight of the book, nothing is too preachy or distastefully handled, so it is easily valued, nonetheless.
Despite the moments of fun, and the surprisingly engaging eventual friendships, very little of A Really Awesome Mess manages to be truly striking. It’s efficient enough to be a temporary mood-lifter, but not quite at a standard where it is able to leaving a lasting impression. Like much of the plot, Emmy and Justin’s romance is somewhat absurd, which, for me, considerably dampened the last third of so of the book. (Either that or I grew tired of the novelty of a smuggled-pig storyline and was ready to move on.) Nevertheless, a good portion of this co-authored novel is more than readable, and sure to work for those who are looking for swift entertainment. This isn’t the right book for anyone who is after something affecting or heart-warming, and this certainly isn’t the gut-wrenching journey of self-discovery that the description claims it to be. Rather, if you have a free weekend, with nothing better to do, and are looking for something uncomplicated and easy to read, A Really Awesome Mess is your book.
This review may contain spoilers for Sanctum, the first book in the series.
Unlike Sanctum, which takes place in an entirely original world, Fractured...moreThis review may contain spoilers for Sanctum, the first book in the series.
Unlike Sanctum, which takes place in an entirely original world, Fractured brings Lela Santos’ story to a modern day, human-ridden Rhode Island. Instead of the bleak and atmospheric Shadowlands, we have high school, soup kitchens, teenage angst, cars, cell phones and prom. It’s definitely a dramatic shift in tone and ideas – and, admittedly, isn’t likely to sit exceedingly well with all readers – but, despite that, Fractured remains an addictive and thoroughly entertaining read. While it may be more in line with typical paranormal romances than with Sanctum, there is something quite distinctly gripping about Sarah Fine’s fairly simple writing style, and something quite distinctly appealing about her well-built characters. Regardless of where Lela and Malachi end up, you need to keep turning the pages.
The start serves as a pretty good adjustment period, with just enough recapping present to make re-reading Sanctum non-essential. This time, with high school and her peers to think about, Lela is forced to balance her new role as Captain of the Guard with the routine and ordinary aspects of being a teenager. More amusingly, this involves teaching Malachi how to fit in in her modern world.
“I’d seen Malachi kill Mazikin with deadly accuracy and powerful grace... I’d rarely seen him do anything as mundane as setting forks on a table.”
It isn’t all fun and games, though. The plot here focuses on the Mazikin – the hellish creatures that can possess human bodies to access their memories and skills. When there are unexplainable sightings of people running around on all fours, and further chilling reports of attacks on the homeless and vulnerable, Lela is provided with two new Guards from the Shadowlands to form a unit with her Lieutenant to track down and destroy the Mazikin nest before it’s too late. The stakes don’t feel quite as heart-pounding or high this time, but there is definitely still a good bit of action and suspense. We find out a little more about the different parts of the Shadowlands – including the Blinding City, a place for the addicts, thieves and insatiably greedy – through Jim and Henry, the two new Guards, as well as a few gut-punching revelations about what may or may not happen to human souls in the afterlife. Essentially, though, this book is about preventing the Mazikin from infesting the land of the living.
“The only thing stopping them from stealing the bodies of a million living humans... is us.”
The change in setting does allow for a few irritating second-book clichés to bloom in the romance department. There is some miscommunication and angst, predictable and unnecessary instances when other characters are brought into the picture. It’s generic stuff - the sort that can be somewhat frustrating when you’ve seen it used a million times before (and always know how it’s going to end). Nevertheless, Sarah Fine does (miraculously) manage to ensure that Malachi and Lela have a core relationship that is completely affecting and easy to invest in. In fact, once all the forced professionalism and let’s-avoid-eye-contact is ignored, the romance here is one of the most stirring parts. There are plenty of heart-wrenching and emotional scenes – and plenty others that put the swoon in swoon-worthy.
The ending is kind of a little bit cruel. (And by a little bit, I mean SO VERY MUCH). It’s the sort of ending that makes me wonder if reading is actually the most painful hobby in existence (I’m thinking YES). Ignoring that part, Fractured was a brilliant read for me – engaging and enjoyable, and a strong sequel to Sanctum. I’m convinced that whatever happens next will result in either hair loss or heartbreak, but I seriously cannot wait to find out.
Since falling (quite madly) in love with Stolen: A Letter to My Captor last year, Lucy Christopher’s The Killing Woods could not have been any more desperately anticipated. Wonderfully, and much to my huge relief, this book is nothing short of fantastic. It’s clever, atmospheric and beautifully-written, perfectly paced and complete with a compelling cast of intriguing characters. Best of all, and unlike so many other titles in this genre thus far, it’s entirely unpredictable. THIS is how you write a good mystery.
The story is full of suspense, and centres around the murder of teenager Ashlee Parker. In The Killing Woods our main character is Emily Shepherd, the daughter of the confused ex-soldier that stumbled from the woods with Ashlee Parker’s body in his arms. Running in parallel to Emily’s determination to believe in her father’s innocence is Damon Hilary’s story, a very different look at the murder mystery from the perspective of Ashlee Parker’s boyfriend. A concoction of secrecy and uncertainty comes from the murky mind of the boy that happened to be with Ashlee the night that she died. An aching tale of desperation and loyalty comes from the girl that simply wishes to put her family back together. It’s not long before Emily’s and Damon’s stories intertwine, and not long before the mystery unravels in ways neither one of them suspects.
One of the strongest aspects of this book stems from Lucy Christopher’s ability to write. She has a magical way with words, one that is simultaneously subtle and powerful, and one that brings to life the most mundane and average of things. Ashlee’s murder takes place in Darkwood, a place that Lucy Christopher describes astonishingly well. Like in Stolen, where the Australian outback was a vivid and animated creation, Darkwood in The Killing Woods is almost a character in itself. The wet leaves, the wildlife, the mud and natural quiet; it’s all fantastically incorporated into the story and creates a vibrant and atmospheric setting. Along with that is Christopher’s effortlessly enthralling ability to keep a mystery alive. The plot is clever and carefully paced in all the right places, ensuring a consistent and discreet tension throughout.
“He’s in the woods, waiting for me. The forest is bright with moonlight, and I’m running fast down tiny pathways, following his trail. I stop and listen, but all I can hear are words in my head… singsong. If you go down to the woods today...”
The actual revelation is not a startlingly jaw-dropping moment, but rather a slow build to an ingenious and tense scene. The Killing Woods is the sort of book that keeps you constantly guessing and unsure of who to trust. When a twisted and shadowy Game is brought into the picture, the characters become all the more dark and inscrutable, particularly Damon Hilary. His and Emily’s relationship is just as compelling and difficult to encode as the rest of the book. The alternating perspectives allow us to get close to both of them, to wish that both can reach the conclusion that gives them the most chance of a happy ending. Christopher brilliantly works both characters’ situations into your heart, even though they are ultimately on opposite sides. The psychological aspect of this sinister whodunit is really quite flawless.
I can’t say that I was as emotionally affected by this book as I was with Stolen, but even so, it’s a pretty stunning read. It’s gripping and thoroughly engaging, in exactly the way that I expect all good thrillers and mysteries to be. The ending particularly blew me away (with its simplicity and perfect closure), and it makes me hope that Lucy Christopher will never stop writing books.
“Hope is the most treacherous thing in the world. It lifts you and lets you plummet.”
In the past, there have been many books that have left me feelin...more“Hope is the most treacherous thing in the world. It lifts you and lets you plummet.”
In the past, there have been many books that have left me feeling completely shattered, and several more that have pushed me to the edge of intense grief and sorrow, but very few have managed to truly make me cry hard and long. My tears are reserved for rare occasions, but I’ll happily shed them all for Elizabeth Wein. Where Code Name Verity impressed me with its clever storytelling, sharp characters and stunningly-researched historical setting, Rose Under Fire proved it could do all of those things and just a little more. Maddie and Julie’s story remains unquestionably inspirational and extraordinary, but Rose Justice’s tale speaks to me on a delicately more personal level. I was an emotional mess while reading this. Heartbroken and utterly exhausted, but completely and beautifully moved.
This war-period book is split into a handful of sections, with the large majority of it focusing on a young Air Transport Auxiliary pilot’s horrific stay in enemy territory. Written in journal format, it tells the story of Rose Justice, a transporter of aircraft for the RAF, who is caught at the wrong place at the wrong time and then forced to face the brutal consequences. It’s a harsh and painfully convincing ride from start to finish, but the outcome of Rose Justice’s journey is made clear to us fairly early on (before it truly begins, in fact). In some ways, this diminishes the level of suspense (and perhaps makes Rose Under Fire a fraction less tightly-plotted than Code Name Verity), but there is quite honestly little need for it. The events we read about are hard-hitting enough – from the ache and emptiness following the happenings of the war, to the tough reality of day-to-day survival at Ravensbrück, the women's concentration camp.
“…we moved hundreds of corpses this winter. We lifted them out of the bunks and undressed them. We stacked them in rows on the floor of the mortuary. We carried them out to our handcarts and hauled then to the crematorium and unloaded them again. But I don’t remember the first time I did it.”
What completely sets this book apart is Wein’s depiction of the prisoners and workers at the camp. The gradual bond between Rose and the other women is, as simply as can be put, extremely uplifting and heartfelt. There are a lot of disturbing and gut-wrenchingly awful aspects to life at Ravensbrück – beatings, shearing, fleabites, typhoid, starvation, experimental surgery, strafstehen, punishment standing – but the fierce love and loyalty that this group of strangers have for one another is almost unbearably affecting. They share their beds and their socks. They sing songs together, daydream together, and recite stories and poems over soup. They fashion Christmas presents for each other out of string, paper and other precious scraps… And it’s horrible. It’s really completely horrible knowing that death is an inevitable part of a story like this.
Rose is a brilliantly solid character to stick with throughout it all. She is not unrealistically brave – she cries and sobs and collapses from exhaustion as any other person would, given the circumstances – but the compassion, endurance and basic humanity that follows her through to the end makes investing in her entirely effortless. It’s incredible and shattering watching her develop and grow. It’s heart-breaking to see her comparing and contrasting her imprisonment to her old life in Pennsylvania, where she had two younger brothers, and used to swim and cook and play basketball. More than anything, she is real. She is as believable and tangible as any character can be.
It is difficult to ignore the fact that so much of Rose Under Fire is based on our own historical reality. That is the challenging part – reading this book and thinking about what people are, and have been, capable of. It’s certainly emotionally draining, but an undoubtedly spectacular read that deserves all the recognition and more. I truly loved it.
A novel about the end of days full of surprising beginnings? It sounds a great deal more interesting than it actually is.
Tumble & Fall is a strang...moreA novel about the end of days full of surprising beginnings? It sounds a great deal more interesting than it actually is.
Tumble & Fall is a strange book, and not for many positive reasons. It’s far less about the asteroid and the end of the world, and far more about the everyday lives of three (largely) unrelated characters. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I have to say. I firmly believe that there is nothing wrong with simple, understated plots, but I do think it depends on the storytelling and I do think it depends on the characters. When it comes to family issues, having dinner, reacquainting with old friends, and all the other mundane and ordinary aspects of existence, I need to be completely invested in lives of these fictional characters. If it isn’t about how to save the world or how to prevent an inevitable global catastrophe, I need it to be about something else. I need that something else to be compelling enough to read. Unfortunately, for me, this is where Tumble & Fall completely fails.
We are given lingering glimpses into the last few days of the lives of three different teenagers. Sienna is the first character that we meet, a recovering rehab patient who moves back in with her family and discovers that her dad is planning to remarry. The next is Zan, who has nothing whatsoever to do with Sienna, and who is mourning the death of her boyfriend and dealing with a newfound grief when she inadvertently learns that he might have been cheating on her. Our final main character is Caden, a boy with an alcoholic for a mother, and a boy who finds himself kidnapped by the father who walked away from him years previously.
The changing, third person narrative makes connecting with each of these characters incredibly challenging, which in turn makes each of their stories mind-numbingly dull, particularly as they do not connect at all. Boring is a frustratingly accurate word for this book. Sienna, Zan and Caden all lack the level of depth and likeability that is necessary for a story like this. Instead, we have forgettable personalities and stiff, unbelievable relationships. The romantic plots, although mostly slight, do very little to make their stories any more convincing or absorbing. Caden’s situation is the most difficult of all to appreciate, and his character even more so. I can’t say that I grew to like any of them entirely, but I was very nearly tempted to skip Caden’s sections altogether.
The writing is not particularly bad – it isn’t bad at all, in fact – but there is a difference between someone who can correctly put sentences together and someone who is a good storyteller. For me, Alexandra Coutts just simply does not fall into the second category. With the simplicity of the plot, her prose should have been one of the main driving forces, but it ultimately turns out to be little more than empty, lifeless words. The one part that I did like, however, comes in the very final pages of the story. There is a slight atmospheric touch to the writing at the end, making it a fraction more stirring than rest of book. It isn’t quite enough to be redeeming though, unfortunately.
I guess my biggest issue with this book is that I just don’t get it. I don’t get why an asteroid would have to feature in a story like this at all. I don’t get why the author didn’t choose to write a straightforward contemporary book, without the complications of an impending disaster that doesn’t particularly propel the plot in any way. It could simply be a case of me being the wrong reader (and I do wonder if it is), which is why I’ll leave a link to Danielle’s lovely review, for those who want to get a different perspective. Personally, though, I think my first book by Alexandra Coutts will have to be my last.
This isn't outrageously awful, but I have no interest in the characters whatsoever. (I blame the multiple perspectives.) And when I don't care abo...moreDNF.
This isn't outrageously awful, but I have no interest in the characters whatsoever. (I blame the multiple perspectives.) And when I don't care about the characters, I care very little about everything else.
The TV potential is obvious, but as a book, The 100 simply does not work. (less)
“They said that when an elemental mage called forth flame, she stole a little from every fire in the world. That would make Iolanthe Seabourne quite...more“They said that when an elemental mage called forth flame, she stole a little from every fire in the world. That would make Iolanthe Seabourne quite the thief.”
Sherry Thomas’s first venture into the young adult field is a delightfully accomplished one. With strong world-building, a rich magical infrastructure, consistent characters, and a touch of romance, The Burning Sky is exactly the sort of book that effortlessly pushes the rest of the world to one side. As an escapist, titles like this could not be more craved or more appreciated. Throw in some old-fashioned boarding school fun – Eton! Camaraderie! Cricket! – and we have a truly wonderfully entertaining fantasy novel, and a brilliant start to a new series.
The very beginning of the book is a little less-than-perfect, I have to say. There are a lot of familiar ideas present here, a prophecy-fulfilling plot among them, and so, admittedly, the opening chapters are not as instantly absorbing or original as they could be. The Harry Potter influence undoubtedly leaves its mark, from Marble, the Prince’s winged horse, to the use of Obliviscere, an illegal forgetfulness spell, and rapid vaulting, a means of mage transportation. Nevertheless, after a short while (a couple of chapters, at least), The Burning Sky sets sail on its own two feet and it does so magnificently. The concepts and workings of Thomas’s fantasy creation all flourish and gain dimension and depth, more than making up for the weak, second-hand foundation at the start. It all commences with a burning sky, a bolt of lightning called down to fix a ruined batch of silver light elixir. It’s this event that draws our two main characters together.
The third person dual narration works brilliantly. Iolanthe Seabourne, the star of a prophecy foretelling the birth of a mage powerful enough to take on the Realm’s tyrannous Bane, is quickly forced to team up with Prince Titus, our second protagonist, and the son of the seer who made the prediction. Together, they are one hell of a pair. There is some predictable secrecy and skirting around the truth (which generally tends to drive me insane) but, surprisingly enough, the romance is nothing but enjoyable and amusing. Between the training, scheming, and evading the agents of the Bane’s Atlantis, the two develop a strange friendship and a slow-burning mutual attraction. And they bring out the best in each other, which is something I always like to see. The Master of the Domain is a bit of a cheeky lad, under all that pressure, formality and responsibility.
“...I actually possess a superior wand – the finest of its kind, no less. The sort of fireworks my wand can produce will leave any girl breathless.”
The Eton setting is quite peculiar and unexpected at first, but it adds an almost ordinary touch to the story that can be easily appreciated. In high-end She’s the Man style, Iolanthe is forced to pretend to be a boy… and to play sports and to make friends. It’s a striking contrast from the mage world, but a brilliant move and a key part in drawing Titus and Iolanthe closer together. A lot of the rest of their time is spent in the Crucible, a storybook which they can physically transport themselves into for training purposes. It’s a superbly imagined creation and probably the most memorable thing about the The Burning Sky, second to the characters.
Despite the slightly rocky start, I totally enjoyed this book and completely fell for Iolanthe and Titus. This is definitely a trilogy with some exciting future potential and I can’t wait to see where the series will go next.
It’s clear from the start that Mortal Fire will only work for a very specific audience. The first few pages are almost excruciatingly slow-paced – tho...moreIt’s clear from the start that Mortal Fire will only work for a very specific audience. The first few pages are almost excruciatingly slow-paced – though not at all poorly written – and the journey to the end feels largely like an uphill trek. It’s demanding and full of detail, and, as a consequence, requires ample amounts of concentration and thought. Despite that, despite its almost irritating intricacy, it is wonderfully mesmerising and unquestionably original. There is something quite distinctly magical about the story and something quite utterly endearing about the main character. Although I had to use some brain power – which, you know, I don’t always like to do – I really, really liked this book.
It begins with a note from the author, stating that Mortal Fire is set in a world mostly like our own and where the year is 1959. Our protagonist arrives in the form of Canny Mochrie, an unusual and perceptive 16-year-old girl whose vision is sharp enough to pick up on the ‘Extra’. These are floating, calligraphic threads that are occasionally semi-transparent in appearance (and what I imagine the lettering effect on the book cover is supposed to reflect). Her brother’s interest in a mining accident takes them to Zarene Valley, where one of the survivors of the accident lives, and it’s here where Canny learns that magic is real and that she can manipulate it herself. Along the way, we are introduced to a whole plethora of strange concepts, from lie-detecting wind chimes and the intimate power of an ideogrammatic language, to a hidden house where time obeys a different set of rules and to a 17-year-old who has been imprisoned for 30 years.
It is Canny who truly makes this book. Although she reads far more like a middle grade protagonist than an older one, her personality is so beautifully distinct that it doesn’t at all matter. She is a problem solver, an adamant and calculative character whose occasional surliness is strangely charming. She does not think or act like you and I, but her eyes provide an interesting window from which to follow this odd story. One thing that feels a little superficial, however, is her reaction to Ghislain, the prisoner in the hidden house. The romance is difficult to grasp, or to even like, and in any other book it could be immediately labelled insta-love. When looking at Mortal Fire as a whole, however, it doesn’t quite appear to be much of a flaw, but just something to note. It helps that Ghislain himself is an incredibly interesting character. His dry humour and secretive habits make him very intriguing, indeed.
As enchanting as much of this book is, and as easy as it is to thoroughly invest in all of the characters, I do think I would have personally enjoyed this book entirely if the turn of events towards the end had been a fraction clearer. We touch on magical anchors and spell cages, time travel and wandering spirits. I even put my glasses on at one point, and had my nose right in the book, but, try as I might, I could not absorb every single little detail and unravel them in a logical sequence. That’s not to say that I lost interest, however. If anything, my attentiveness increased tenfold, and the clear imagination fuelled into the book did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. I just merely wish a couple of things had been a little better explained or, better yet, simpler.
Despite the slow start and the (at times) overly ambitious plot threads, Mortal Fire is a book that unreservedly deserves some recognition. It’s a complex and carefully-paced read, and perhaps better suited to the most patient and flexible of readers, but worth much of the concentration and time that it undoubtedly needs. It’s different, more than anything, and sometimes that is exactly what I need.