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?