Saturday, May 02, 2009

Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter

Also known as Knife in the U.K., which I prefer. By R. J. Anderson.

Disclaimer: I've been following the author's blog since around the end of 2006 and eagerly awaiting this book since at least last year; I was actually hesitant to read it, lest I be disappointed. I am also hesitant to write this post, lest the author be disappointed. (Hi there.)


My actual reaction is more complicated. This book is actually haunting me (where haunting is a sophisticated literary term that means I woke up thinking about it). When I finished it yesterday I was somewhat nonplussed, thinking "Okay, that's nice enough, but I don't love it", but the romance grew on me over the next several hours.

Today I realized what really creeps me out about it. It's a zombie book! (to put it facetiously*)

The story: Knife is a precocious young faery whose colony has been Sundered from its magic and the outside world since long before her birth. Only the (secretive, Machiavellian) Queen retains the ability to control magic, although all faeries had it once. As the Queen's Hunter, Knife decides to take matters into her own hands, find out why the magic has been lost, and try to fix it...

What I liked: The characters are almost all very well done. (Paul's father doesn't seem to get much attention, though.) The little touches that come from this being a faery story: Knife hides in a basket filled with crumpled paper, but doesn't know what it is. The chuckle I got from her pride in being a whole fly's length taller than everyone else. The deft reminders of, for example, the importance of names: they are only briefly mentioned, but in such a way as to make the reader remember. The tight prose. The descriptions are striking: this is a well-detailed world. The sweet, innocent romance. The references to a gardener (possibly this one?).

What I didn't like: This is very much Knife's story, which is fine, but her world doesn't seem very large; it's almost as if it ends beyond the house and grounds where she lives (with one exception). No one outside that radius seems to play an important part. Even inside, the unnamed faeries in the colony (there seem to be 50 or more) seem to be a sort of shadowy, amorphous cloud, playing as extras in crowd scenes. There are no chance encounters with someone unnamed that turn out to be important later, as far as I recall. (My recollection may be poor; I'll admit to misreading Bryony's name as Byrony until I tried to look it up and couldn't find it.) What really bothers me, however, is the way magic is used to change minds and wills, just as in Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely. It seems to me that a general rule of fairy tales is that the characters should have to make choices that lead to their downfalls; stories where free will is taken away by magic tend to bother me a lot. Physical coercion is one thing, but being able to change someone else's essence is another.

In the end? There's much to like about this book; the ending is quite good, open without being unresolved. There are some hints of Christian themes but not as much as I had hoped. I do hope to read more from the author. But I remain disturbed by the magic, as explained above. (I could also just be in a bad mood since the mirror scene with Magpie in Blackbringer was similarly awful but didn't have such a lasting effect on my impression of the book.)

* I am thinking of these zombies. Maybe it doesn't really fit?


R.J. Anderson said...

Of course I don't mind you thinking critically about the book, or not loving it as much as you'd hoped. However, I am racking my brains now trying to think whose will gets actually taken away by magic. Certainly someone TRIES to influence another character's will by magical means, but doesn't succeed in doing so; I can't think of any other examples where it actually works.

I actually find the idea of seducing/manipulating someone's brain with magic to be fairly distasteful, so I'm a bit distressed if the book came across to you that way, and would certainly like to avoid giving that implication in future.

Joshua said...

Spoilers here, for anyone else who might be reading this.

I believe I know which instance you refer to, which did concern me; I didn't really like or trust the Queen throughout the entire book due to the foreshadowing at the beginning, and what she tried to do was basically slavery. (I may have been reading waaaay too much into the foreshadowing since I started suspecting her around page 4 -- I actually wrote this down in case I was right later on.)

However, I was also thinking of the Sundering; from the diaries, it looks like it basically destroyed most of the faeries' minds who were alive at that time. And presumably they should have had more defenses?

I did mean to mention in the review that after the first couple chapters, I basically read straight through except for skipping the last 50 pages to find out how it ended. So thanks for writing such a readable story! :) This issue of will only started to bother me, or even occur to me, today.

My little brother (11ish) is reading it now, I'll try to put in what he thinks at some point.

R.J. Anderson said...

Let me talk about this with you in e-mail, perhaps; I don't want to squelch anyone else who might want to discuss this without the author interrupting. :)

But the short answer is, I am not at all bothered if you are upset by the actions taken by characters I made plain were either outright evil or seriously misguided (that is, both the actions and the characters who carried them out); I would be distressed if you were upset by the actions of characters portrayed as good. Since you seem to be referring to the former and not the latter, I'm much less worried.